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Cliven Bundy co-defendant seeks inclusion in first Bunkerville standoff trial

One of Cliven Bundy’s co-defendants in the armed standoff case wants to go to trial sooner than a judge has ordered.

In a motion filed Wednesday, defendant Peter Santilli also argues that the 17 defendants in the standoff case should be tried with two trials instead of the three trials the judge ordered.

The motion is an effort to change U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen’s order for three separate trials that group the defendants in tiers based on their alleged involvement in the standoff. The order puts Santilli in the second trial. The first trial is set to start on Feb. 6.

Santilli is in the upper tier of five defendants that federal prosecutors allege are leaders and organizers of the armed standoff, a group that includes Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy, and Ryan Payne.

The standoff unfolded in April 2014 when Bundy and supporters confronted federal agents who had seized his cattle in a dispute over grazing on public lands without paying grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM had obtained a court order prior to impounding the cattle, which agents released to avoid bloodshed.

No shots were fired in the standoff, which attracted hundreds of Bundy supporters and sympathizers, many of them distrustful of the federal government.

Santilli contends he should be tried first and be among a group of eight to 11 defendants who allegedly organized the protest.

“Santilli has spent months preparing with others to present a group defense based on the notion that he would be tried with the Bundy family members he is alleged to have conspired (with),” says the motion, submitted by attorney Chris Rasmussen.

The motion also argues that the case can be tried with two groups of defendants and that there is precedent for having the first and most involved group tried first.

The defendants face federal charges that include conspiring to assault federal agents on April 12, 2014, several miles from the Bundy ranch near Bunkerville.

Federal prosecutors had asked for three groups of defendants, though the judge’s order schedules the trials differently, with the most prominent group of defendants in the second trial.

Leen, however, wrote in her order that it seems “more fair” to have the defendants in the lowest tier be tried first, as their trial likely will be shorter than the other trials. Those defendants are: Richard Lovelien, Todd Engel, Gregory Burleson, Eric Parker, O. Scott Drexler and Steven Stewart.

Under Leen’s order, the second tier of “mid-level” defendants would be in the third and final trial. Those defendants are Bundy sons Dave and Mel Bundy, Joseph O’Shaughnessy, Brian Cavalier, Jason Woods and Micah McGuire.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy were acquitted in October by a Portland jury after being tried in connection with a 41-day armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon.

Santilli was indicted in the Oregon occupation, but federal prosecutors in September asked the judge to dismiss the indictment, citing the court’s ruling that excludes evidence, including statements Santilli made to counter-protesters and reporters.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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