A Nevada jury Monday found two men guilty on felony charges stemming from a 2014 armed standoff against federal agents trying to round up cattle on public land near
U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, however, declared a mistrial on additional charges involving a total of six defendants after jurors said they were deadlocked. A new trial was scheduled for June 26.
The trial in federal court in Las Vegas is tied to disputes over who controls government-owned land, with some activists wanting state government control of large parts of federal land. Prosecutors consider
On Monday, defendant Greg Burleson of Phoenix was found guilty on eight counts that included assaulting a federal officer, and codefendant Todd Engel of Boundary County, Idaho, was found guilty on two counts of obstruction of justice and interstate travel to aid extortion.
Navarro had rejected defense lawyers' bids to declare a mistrial after jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked on the 50 other counts faced by Burleson, Engel and four other defendants. The judge told the jury to deliberate more in the morning, but shortly after lunch, the jurors told her they couldn't reach verdicts on the other counts and Navarro declared the mistrial.
The case has been carefully followed by activists concerned about government overreach and possession of public lands. It also seemed to put pressure on the federal government after prosecutors suffered a surprising defeat in October when an Oregon jury acquitted Ammon Bundy, one of Cliven Bundy's sons, and six others involved in a 2016 standoff.
The Oregon case centered on a 41-day standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The acquittal of Ammon Bundy appeared to embolden those who think they are entitled to cattle-grazing rights on public lands without paying fees to the Bureau of Land Management.
The 2014 Nevada case resulted from when federal agents tried to round up cattle in response to the uncollected grazing right fees. Cliven Bundy supporters — many of them armed — arrived from Nevada and neighboring states to protest the government action.
The tense standoff became a rallying point for those who pointed to the action as federal overreach. The trial against the six men involved in the Bundy ranch standoff was the first of several, with Bundy expected to go to trial this summer.
The jury had been deliberating for less than a week when it came back Monday with the partial verdict. The trial had gone on for about two months.
Burleson's sentencing was set for July 26 and Engel's sentencing was scheduled for July 27.
Shawn Perez, a lawyer for Ricky Lovelein, one of the defendants still awaiting a verdict, said that having the jury go back to deliberate more after reaching a partial decision seemed unusual and that the waiting game for his client was difficult.
The courtroom was packed as Navarro asked the spectators to refrain from outbursts as the verdicts were read.
"This is not a sporting event," Navarro said. "This is a courtroom."
Outside the courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, about 20 Bundy supporters stood with Gadsden flags and American flags. One wore a blue shirt that read "Political Prisoner" on the back.
Bundy supporter John Lamb said he thought the government would try again if there was a hung jury on the remaining counts.
He unfolded a piece of paper outside the courthouse and showed a self-made score card that showed the list of defendants and boxes to be checked when guilty or not guilty verdicts are read. Lamb pointed to all the blank boxes where the jury was hung.
The government "needs a win badly," he said. "By losing again, they'll never be able to put a stop to it."
After the mistrial was declared, Todd Leventhal, a lawyer for defendant O. Scott Drexler, said a deadlocked jury indicated a steep hill to climb for government prosecutors in another trial. Jurors he spoke to after the mistrial were unimpressed with the video and written evidence presented by prosecutors, Leventhal said.
He also said jurors were intractable on the counts where verdicts weren't achieved.
"There were some people dug in on both sides," Leventhal said. "It's an issue that has deeply divided politics and deeply divided the nation. People have strong feelings on both sides."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on pending litigation.
3:56 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from an additional defense lawyer.
2:45 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with L.A. Times reporting.