Prosecutors have failed for a second time to convict four men involved in the historic 2014 Bunkerville, Nevada, standoff that pitted armed militia members against federal agents attempting to roundup cattle belonging to Cliven Bundy.
On Tuesday a jury in Las Vegas acquitted two defendants, Steven Stewart and Ricky Lovelien, of all 10 charges they faced. The panel couldn’t unanimously agree on charges facing Scott Drexler and Eric Parker, resulting in mistrials for those two men.
The jury’s verdict — after four days of deliberation — has to be a jolting blow to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Federal prosecutors planned to bring three separate trials against 21 defendants, including Cliven Bundy and his sons, for their varying roles in the 2014 standoff. It ended without bloodshed when federal agents, faced with the gun barrels of Bundy’s militia supporters, abandoned their attempts to round up his cattle for non-payment of federal grazing fees.
The current timetable — set by the court when it divided 21 defendants into three trial groupings — calls for Bundy and his sons, Ammon and Ryan, to stand trial in about 30 days in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. But that trial date could be postponed as prosecutors reassess their trial strategy.
Stewart, Lovelien, Drexler and Parker each faced multiple felony charges including conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons and assaulting and threatening federal officers during the 2014 standoff near the Bundy ranch. Convictions would have resulted in lengthy prison sentences.
Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial after the jury said it couldn’t reach unanimous agreement on four charges against Parker — assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal officer and two firearms counts — and charges of assaulting a federal officer and a firearms count that Drexler faced. Prosecutors have not said if they will retry Parker and Drexler a third time.
The verdict came after a 20-day re-trial of the same four men who were tried in April by another jury that also couldn’t reached a unanimous verdict on guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the first trial earlier this year, a jury did convict two other co-defendants — Gregory Burleson of Phoenix and Todd C. Engel of Boundary County, Idaho — for their roles in the standoff. The two, identified by prosecutors as “follower-gunmen,” were found guilty of obstruction of justice and interstate travel to aid extortion. Burleson was sentenced to 68 years in prison in July. Engel awaits sentencing.