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2 men acquitted of all charges in Bunkerville standoff case

Updated August 22, 2017 - 8:30 pm

Jurors acquitted two men of charges that could have sent them to federal prison for decades Tuesday, while reaching a split decision for two others, in a retrial that stemmed from the 2014 armed standoff in Bunkerville.

The four men hugged their attorneys, as about two dozen loyal supporters erupted into cheers from the gallery of a courtroom where they had quietly watched weeks and weeks of testimony.

Montana resident Ricky Lovelien and Idaho resident Steven Stewart were acquitted of all 10 counts they faced and were expected to be released from custody Tuesday night.

Stewart cried and nodded his head along with each “not guilty” U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro read aloud, while Lovelien showed little more emotion than a grin.

After several supporters stepped outside to line Las Vegas Boulevard and trumpet the verdicts, defense attorneys gathered briefly in a hallway just outside Navarro’s courtroom.

Stewart’s attorney, Rich Tanasi, said he was thankful to the jury and “ecstatic that my client gets to go home and see his family.”

Lovelien’s lawyer, Shawn Perez, told reporters that prosecutors had “overcharged” the defendants.

“I’m real happy for Ricky,” Perez said. “He’s a good guy … It’s an overwhelming feeling. I can’t even tell you.

“I know he’s looking forward to a steak and a beer. Something.”

The panel of six women and six men deliberated for a little more than three days. The jury also acquitted Idaho residents Scott Drexler and Eric Parker of most counts but could not agree on all charges against the two men.

“What we have here is a win,” said Parker’s wife, Andrea, joined by about 25 others outside the federal courthouse.

All four men had been held without bail since early 2016.

Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre said prosecutors have not decided when they will retry Drexler and Parker on the remaining charges.

Navarro scheduled Wednesday hearings for the two men, who were expected to be transferred to a federal halfway house in the meantime. The judge could decide tomorrow to release them from custody while prosecutors contemplate their next step.

Chained at the ankles inside the courtroom late Tuesday afternoon, Parker and Drexler fist-bumped their attorneys, Jess Marchese and Todd Leventhal, before marshal’s escorted them back to a holding area.

Parker still faces significant prison time for charges of assault and threatening a federal officer, along with underlying weapons charges. The jury also did not reach a verdict on assault and a weapons charge for Drexler.

“I hope the government sees they have a weak case,” Parker’s lawyer, Marchese, said. “And I hope they decide to dismiss the remaining counts and save the taxpayers some money.”

The potential for temporary freedom means Drexler could see his 6-month-old grandson for the first time, Leventhal said.

During the second trial, U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro barred the defense from referencing constitutional rights to freely assemble and to bear arms. She also prohibited mention of alleged misconduct or excessive force by law enforcement.

Shortly after the verdict, defense attorneys spoke privately with jurors, who told them they had voted 11-1 in favor of acquittal on all charges.

“This has been a long time coming,” the lawyer told reporters. “We knew it was going to happen eventually. As much as we were shut down to bring anything up, the jury saw through it.”

During closing arguments last week, prosecutors pointed to social media posts in which the four men discussed the activities in the rural Nevada town, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. On a video played for jurors, rancher Cliven Bundy spoke to a crowd outside his ranch, encouraging his followers to do what they needed to do to retrieve his cattle from the Bureau of Land Management.

Defense attorneys for each of the men opted not to give closing statements.

The defendants, charged as gunmen, were accused of driving from other states to Bunkerville in April 2014 to support Bundy, who is accused of conspiring to thwart the federal government’s roundup of roughly 1,000 cows from public land.

Earlier this year, members of another jury declared that they were deadlocked on all counts against the four defendants but convicted two others.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter. Review-Journal writer Blake Apgar contributed to this report.

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