LAS VEGAS —  The Bundy Ranch standoff trial opened Monday morning with a call for a mistrial as supporters of the defendants jammed into a federal courtroom.

It ended hours later when attorneys for the four men charged in the 2014 clash among federal agents, militia members and cattle ranchers rested their case after calling just one defendant to the stand.

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Tuesday morning.

O. Scott Drexler became the singular voice for the defendants by giving the only defense testimony jurors are allowed to consider since the trial opened last month.

Drexler’s words came as an anticlimax to a series of dramatic events that started Thursday when U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro abruptly ended court by ordering defendant Eric Parker off the stand and striking his testimony from the record as jurors watched. 

Defense lawyers responded by calling for a mistrial and accusing federal prosecutors of wrongly depriving Parker of his right to testify in a way that irreparably damaged the case.

“It cannot be doubted that a defendant in a criminal case has the right to take the witness stand and to testify in his or her own defense,” Parker’s lawyer, Jess Marchese, wrote in his request for a mistrial. “The right to testify on one’s own behalf in a criminal trial is one of the rights that are essential to due process of law.”

Marchese said the prosecution acted in bad faith. He said the government launched objections about testimony the judge had allowed.

“At no point did Mr. Parker violate the Court order by eliciting testimony other than what he saw,” Marchese said in his motion. “Specifically, he never elicited facts relating to his disallowed self-defense argument.”

Prosecutors call for sanctions

Federal prosecutors shot back with a motion calling for sanctions against three of the defendants and their lawyers, accusing them of repeatedly violating court orders by introducing prohibited information and attempting to derail the trial through jury nullification.

“From the beginning of trial and throughout, counsel for (the three defendants) have repeatedly violated the Court’s Order and attempted to place precluded evidence before the jury,” Acting Nevada U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre wrote in his motion. “The possibility of Parker’s forced removal from the stand was a specifically considered, orchestrated, and accepted strategy — perhaps even a preferred one.”

Supporters for the defendants, who came from hundreds of miles away, rallied at the courthouse to protest what they called a miscarriage of justice and an unfair trial.

“You have to be able to put on a defense, and they’re allowing no defense,” said San Diego resident Terry Linnell, who said he was at the 2014 Bundy standoff. “So that’s why we have more people here and why we filled the courtroom today.”

Parker was attempting to tell jurors what he saw during the standoff over a barrage of objections from prosecutors when Navarro put an end to his testimony. Parker returned to the defense table and started crying while Navarro dismissed the jurors.

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Parker, Steven Stewart and Drexler, all of Idaho, and Richard Lovelien of Oklahoma are accused of conspiracy, extortion, assault and obstruction for helping rancher Cliven Bundy fend off a government roundup of his cattle in what became known as the Battle of Bunkerville. 

Lovelien and his attorney, Shawn Perez of Las Vegas, were excluded from the proposed sanctions. 

Judge: No mistrial, no sanctions

Navarro blamed defense attorneys for the problems and quickly dismissed the motion for the mistrial.

But she stopped short of imposing sanctions requested by prosecutors, including requiring remaining defense witnesses to testify on the record outside the presence of the jury. 

She also rejected the prosecution’s request to preview defense lawyers’ closing arguments before they are given to the jury.

Prosecutors also are asking the judge to instruct the jury before it deliberates to disregard anything Parker said and “proceed as though Mr. Parker never testified.”

Drexler’s attorney, Todd Leventhal, said the court orders were confusing and inconsistent.

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“It’s sort of a moving target at this point for me,” he said, adding that questions about what happened are “difficult to answer within the court’s parameters.” 

Navarro said defense attorneys were being disingenuous by claiming confusion. 

“It’s not vague at all,” Navarro said. “It’s like when you tell a kid they can’t have candy before dinner and they keep trying.”

If Navarro had granted the mistrial, it would have been the second one in the case. A jury in April deadlocked on charges against the four men. It convicted two other defendants on multiple counts. But the jury could not agree on conspiracy charges — a key component of the government’s case — against any of the six.

High-profile land case 

The Bundy Ranch standoff is one of the most high-profile land-use cases in modern Western history, pitting cattle ranchers, anti-government protesters and militia members against the Bureau of Land Management.

For decades, the BLM repeatedly ordered Bundy to remove his cattle from federal lands and in 2014 obtained a court order to seize his cattle as payment for more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees.

The Bundy family issued a social-media battle cry. Hundreds of supporters from every state in the union, including members of several militia groups, converged on his ranch about 70 miles north of Las Vegas.

Judge puts tight limits on defense

Navarro’s rulings have severely limited defense arguments to avoid what she has described as jury nullification. Four defense witnesses were permitted to testify via Skype last week, but the jury was not allowed to hear what they said.

Navarro ruled the witnesses, who were at the standoff, failed to establish grounds for self-defense claims sought by defendants.

Navarro has barred defendants from discussing why they traveled thousands of miles to join protesters at the Bundy Ranch. She will not allow them to testify about perceived abuses by federal authorities during the cattle roundup that might have motivated them to participate.

Navarro also has restricted defendants from raising constitutional arguments, or mounting any defense based on their First Amendment rights to free speech and their Second Amendment rights to bear arms. In her rulings, Navarro has said those are not applicable arguments in the case.

Federal officials, however, do not face the same restrictions. To show defendants were part of a conspiracy, they have referenced events that happened months, or years, after the standoff.

An image of Parker has come to epitomize the 2014 protest. He is pictured lying prone on an overpass and sighting a long rifle at BLM agents in the wash below. The image galvanized the public and brought international awareness to the feud over public lands and the potential consequences of such a dispute.

But jurors in the first trial couldn’t agree on whether Parker brandished a weapon, assaulted officers or even posed a threat to them.

Drexler testifies about intentions

Drexler told the packed courtroom Monday that even though he brought weapons to the standoff, he had no intention of threatening or assaulting law-enforcement officers.

“My intent was to disappear and not be a threat to any person in the wash,” he said.

Drexler admitted bringing an AR-15, a .45 handgun and 250 rounds of ammunition to Bunkerville. On cross-examination, prosecutors sought to show he intended to intimidate authorities and force them to “act more civil.”

“With one person having a weapon, they order you around,” Drexler said of law enforcement. “When two people are armed, it brings a conversation. It brings civility.”

Prosecuters also questioned if Drexler went to the ranch to help Bundy secure the release of his cattle from federal agents, a key element in the government’s conspiracy case.

Throughout both trials, defendants denied working in concert with the Bundys or even each other. They said they came to the ranch for different reasons and their presence had nothing to do with preventing the roundup.

Drexler said multiple times on Monday that he feared for his life and believed BLM agents “were going to kill me.” Prosecutors objected, prompting the judge to remind jurors the defense was prohibited from raising such arguments.

‘It was the final straw’

Navarro’s restrictions angered Bundy supporters, who say her rulings also could affect the rules that apply in two upcoming trials in the case.

Three trials are scheduled for 17 defendants who are being prosecuted based on their levels of culpability. Although defendants in the first trial are considered the least culpable, all face the same charges and could spend the rest of their lives in prison.

The second trial will include Cliven Bundy and his sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who are considered ringleaders.

Protester Linnell said the case playing out in court doesn’t reflect the reality of what happened in the hours before the standoff, when federal land agents cracked down violently on members of the Bundy family. 

“The BLM was pointing weapons on the Bundy family, … The militia wasn’t even there yet,” he said. “I never saw anybody point a weapon. I know there’s the famous picture, but you can see his finger wasn’t on his trigger.”

B.J. Soper of Redmond, Oregon, helped organize Monday’s demonstration in front of the courthouse. “We saw what happened Thursday night in the courtroom. It was the final straw. And I said, ‘We got to go. We got to go to Las Vegas and we got to find out what’s going on and we got to let the American people know what’s going on.’ ”

Soper said the decision to strike Parker’s testimony was proof the defendants are not getting a fair trial. 

“Even in the darkest of times we’re allowed to defend for ourselves,” he said. “Even if they don’t allow a witness to testify on our behalf, we’ve always had the right to be able to testify for ourselves. And when that right is restricted what else do we have? We have a one-sided story here. We have a witch hunt.”

Bunkerville resident Shem Teerlink said the judge and the prosecution are trying to railroad the defendants by not allowing them to tell the jury about abuses by federal agents, including how snipers were positioned around protesters during the standoff.

“Basically they’re just trying to railroad these men and not let them have a true defense,” he said. “So they just make all these rules and say, ‘You can’t say this, you can’t say that.’ “

Testimony prohibited by the judge

A federal judge has restricted testimony from four defendants facing retrial on conspiracy and weapons charges for their roles in the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff. They cannot tell the jury:

  • What motivated them to travel thousands of miles to join protesters at the Bundy Ranch in 2014.
  • Videos and internet reports about clashes between federal agents and members of the Bundy family in the days prior to the standoff, including  accounts that federal agents killed cattle, threatened Bundy family members with arrest, threw a pregnant woman to the ground and shocked Ammon Bundy with a stun gun.
  • Law-enforcement encounters with civilians or third-party accounts about the level of force used by law-enforcement officers during the roundup of cattle.
  • References to public statements by Gov. Brian Sandoval and other elected officials who criticized the the Bureau of Land Management in the days leading up to the standoff.
  • References to First Amendment zones, or areas established by federal agents to limit movements of protesters during the roundup of Cliven Bundy’s cattle.
  • References to Bundy’s grazing, water, or legacy rights on the public lands or arguments about his decades long fight with federal officials.
  • Arguments invoking First and Second Amendment rights.
  • References to the length of prison time they face if convicted.


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