August 31, 2017 - 12:41 pm
Updated August 31, 2017 - 7:24 pm
A federal judge on Thursday set an October trial date for seven Bunkerville standoff defendants, including rancher Cliven Bundy.
Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Idaho, where at least five defendants lived before being arrested, are asking U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to release the four Idaho defendants who remain in custody.
An Aug. 29 letter authored by Idaho Rep. Dorothy Moon, a Republican, and signed by 38 other state legislators references recent acquittals in the case. A copy of the letter, addressed to Sessions, was sent to President Donald Trump.
“Further exploitation of these citizens would be an affront to justice and notice to the public of prosecutorial harassment,” the letter states.
Steven Stewart of Idaho and Ricky Lovelien of Montana were found not guilty in August during a retrial in which Scott Drexler and Eric Parker, both Idaho residents, were acquitted of a majority of charges they faced.
Federal prosecutors have repeatedly said they intend to take Drexler and Parker to trial a third time on allegations of assault and threats against Bureau of Land Management agents. The Oct. 10 trial is expected to last about two months.
“This prosecution sends a chilling message to the public who are concerned about federal overreach in their daily lives that is inharmonious to well-established constitutional guarantees,” Moon wrote in her letter.
In July, Sessions made a brief reference to the second Bunkerville standoff trial while it was underway. He offered praise to the lead prosecutor, Nevada Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, but declined to take a side in the case.
Bundy supporters have previously indicated that they see a potential ally in the Trump administration.
Moon, who has visited the defendants at a detention center in Pahrump and viewed court proceedings, represents a swath of central Idaho that covers an area where Drexler and Ammon Bundy live.
Despite U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro setting the trial date, Moon remains optimistic about a response from Sessions.
“A lot can happen between now and then,” she said in a telephone interview Thursday. “There might be a perfect storm of letter writing, petitioning and social media support. I still hope they dismiss the charges before October, and I hope there’s pressure put on them from D.C. to do so.”
Prosecutors have alleged that Cliven Bundy, a Gold Butte rancher, conspired to thwart the federal government’s roundup of roughly 1,000 cows from public land near Bunkerville in April 2014.
Others scheduled for the October trial are Ryan Bundy, Ammon Bundy, militia founder Ryan Payne and Pete Santilli, who has argued that he was a journalist covering the confrontation between the Bundy family and law enforcement.
It will be the third trial in the case.
While jurors from the first trial could not decide on charges against four men, the panel returned convictions against two standoff participants: Arizona resident Gregory Burleson and Idaho resident Todd Engel. Burleson received a 68-year prison term, and Engel is awaiting sentencing.
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