The retrial of four defendants accused of acting as militia-backed gunmen for Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy during a tense 2014 standoff with federal law enforcement goes to the jury this week.
In the first trial, two defendants were convicted of a majority of charges, and one of those defendants Gregory Burleson of Arizona was recently sentenced to 68 years in prison. Another defendant, Todd Engel of Idaho, has had his sentencing rescheduled for next month.
Contributor John L. Smith said Engel and Burleson stood out from the other defendants for one big reason.
“Burleson and Engle made statements video statements that made it very clear where they stood on the issues regarding Bundy and whether they were willing to do whatever it takes as Bundy said… Burleson went much further than that. He said he was willing to go out and kill federal law enforcement officers. He really, really crossed the line.”
Some people have questioned the sentence for Burleson, but Smith points out that anyone who understood the charges against him and the sentences for a conviction is probably not shocked by 68 years. Smith speculates that Burleson probably didn't take a plea bargain because he didn't feel like he committed a crime.
“As time passes, and people study this case and I think they will, it’s a shocker. This is a man who is blind now. He went blind due to a medical issue after this event… maybe someone thought there would be sympathy or something. It’s hard to say, but what is harder to understand is how people who are making admissions on video, whether that is some reason to not accept a deal that, according to one defense attorney was about seven years.”
While Engel awaits his sentence, the four defendants in the current trial could hear this week, or perhaps next week, the jury's decision. Smith said this time around the prosecution presented a slimmed down version of its case.
“In his opening statement, Steve Myhre, the acting U.S. Attorney in Las Vegas, made that really clear. There were less pyrotechnic elements and more really black and white. Here’s the law. Here’s what they did. I think that that probably focused the jurors for that long marathon of a trial.”
Smith said in the first trial the prosecution presented voluminous amounts of evidence, including videos, audio recordings, and thousands of social media posts, which might have overwhelmed the jury. The prosecution's narrowed focus and Judge Gloria Navarro's rulings on evidence have made for a more succinct case, but it could also open the case up to some appealable issues, Smith said.
“I think by focusing the evidence it probably focuses the jury on the crimes alleged and if the crimes were committed you rule to convict and if they’re not then you don’t. But what happened to Cliven Bundy’s sister in a side event, no matter how interesting it was on the internet, if that’s what motivated someone to drive a thousand miles over a 12-hour period to show up with several thousand rounds of ammunition and several automatic weapons to a protest site. If that’s your motive, then that’s your motive. But what you did when you were there, if you pointed your gun, that might lead folks to say that you broke the law.”
John L. also talked about Joyce Woodhouse, whom he calls fierce. He thinks that the recall against her will backfire.
“It’s a fascinating move because I think it has every possibility of backfiring despite all the money behind the recall,” he said.
Woodhouse was a school teacher and principal. She also worked on developing programs that connected businesses and students to help students develop the skills needed to go into the workforce. She also has extensive knowledge on policy, especially when it comes to education and Smith notes her ethics are beyond repute.
“Whoever throws mud at her is going to have to be pretty careful I would assume. Although in this day and age, who knows what will fly,” he said.
And our man about town was featured in a book about Las Vegas rock 'n' roll history. Seems even back in 1991, John L. was lampooning politicians who railed against amoral pot smokers with long hair who trooped into town to see the Grateful Dead.
John L. Smith, contributor
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