The blatant disregard for the constitutional rights of the accused continues, as a federal judge in Las Vegas has placed restrictions on what defendants can testify to on the stand while allowing the government much more leeway in the prosecution of four men who were present at a 2014 standoff at the Bundy Ranch. The men – Eric Parker, Ricky Lovelein, Scott Drexler, and Steven Stewart – have spent over a year in prison awaiting trial; in fact, this is their second trial. In their first, the jury could not reach a verdict.
The jury did, however, find two co-defendants guilty of some offenses. One was a former federal informant; the FBI pretended to be a documentary film crew, offered the man alcohol, and then encouraged him to make violent statements. That same shtick was used against the others in the months following the Bundy standoff, yet the former informant was the only one to make any threats.
Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro was appointed by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who has what many to believe is a direct interest in this case and the Bundy Ranch itself. Throughout both the first trial and the retrial, she placed a number of restrictions on the accused and their lawyers while allowing the prosecution nearly free rein. While the defense is limited to only speaking about the specific day of the armed standoff and not allowed to discuss anything leading up to that, the prosecution has been permitted to bring up the two years prior. The Mercury News reported:
[The defendants] can’t say they were motivated to drive to southern Nevada from Idaho and Montana after hearing about scuffles involving unarmed Bundy family members and Bureau of Land Management agents using dogs and stun guns.
They can’t refer to criticism by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval of federal agents for creating what the Republican governor called an “atmosphere of intimidation” in the days before the standoff.
Judge Navarro also prohibited any discussion of the “First Amendment Area” set up by the government for the press, who were sequestered from the standoff and not allowed to film or operate outside that area.
Perhaps most disturbing was Navarro’s comment to the open courtroom on Monday:
Just because law enforcement is pointing a gun doesn’t mean you get to point one back.
Navarro also mentioned that she was considering sanctions against the defense attorneys for their persistence in attempting to introduce their clients’ motivation for traveling to the Bundy Ranch, as well as the actions of the federal agents involved that were witnessed by the accused on video and in person. As well, she considered sanctions involved receiving previews of testimony and verbatim copies of closing arguments, to be approved before use before the jury. The attorneys responded by requesting counsel of their own; Navarro ruled later that day that she would not sanction the attorneys after all.
Eric Parker was ordered off the witness stand by Navarro last week, who told the jury to disregard his entire testimony, claiming that he was trying to invite jury nullification. The move “might draw scrutiny” from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to Richard Draskovich, a Las Vegas lawyer uninvolved with the case. Draskovich says he “had never heard of such a move in more than two decades practicing in federal courts.” Defense attorneys called for a mistrial, which Navarro denied.
The defense was not allowed to call other witnesses. With Parker’s testimony stricken, Scott Drexler also testified, serving as their sole witness. Closing arguments were set to begin yesterday, but this parody of justice is likely far from over.