A trial for Gold Butte rancher Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and another man was delayed Tuesday for at least a week.
Newly revealed video surveillance of the Bundy home is at the center of the delay, though U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro said she would consider several other concerns, including whether the defendants should continue to be detained while awaiting trial.
Moments before jurors were slated to hear opening statements regarding the 2014 standoff with federal agents, Bundy’s attorney, Bret Whipple, asked the judge to throw out the case.
Last week, one of the lifelong rancher’s sons, Ryan Bundy, who is representing himself during the trial, elicited testimony from retired National Park Service ranger Mary Hinson about video surveillance of the Bundy home. The surveillance took place for at least four days under the FBI’s watch during the standoff, Hinson said, and had not previously been disclosed.
But Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre told the judge on Tuesday that the camera, which did not record any footage, was stationed on public land and aimed at an area around the family’s ranch for a few hours on April 6, 2014, before it was knocked over and damaged. He said it was never used again.
Navarro said she wanted more information about the surveillance, including proof that it was not recorded and information about whether anyone took notes on what was seen.
“If it has potentially useful information, then the defense is entitled to it,” the judge said. “I’m not convinced that something doesn’t exist. You don’t set up a surveillance camera for nothing.”
The shift in what was expected to be the start of a four-month trial came suddenly. The courtroom was packed with more than a dozen journalists and at least two dozen other people awaiting opening statements from lawyers on both sides of the case.
Cliven Bundy and son Ammon were dressed in red jail jumpsuits, while Ryan Bundy wore a black three-piece suit, white shirt and gray tie. The fourth defendant, Montana independent militia man Ryan Payne, was dressed in a blue shirt and gray tie.
As his own attorney, Ryan Bundy addressed the court about having been kept in federal custody without bail for nearly two years, pointing to the difficulties he has accessing relevant documents from behind bars. He also suggested that Myhre, the government’s lead prosecutor in the case, be placed in a jail cell next to him to prepare his case.
The judge set a hearing for Wednesday afternoon on the surveillance. She also said she would address the custody status of the four defendants later in the week.
Last week, Navarro denied a separate motion from lawyers representing independent Montana militia member Ryan Payne to throw out the case based on documents agents shredded during the occupation of the Bunkerville ranch, saying there was no evidence that information on the papers would have benefited the defendants.
The men face the potential of decades behind bars if convicted of conspiracy and other charges related to the armed standoff. The start of opening statements was postponed until early next week.