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John L. Smith: Non-Bundy - Ryan Payne - May Have The Most To Lose In the Bundy Trial

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(Multnomah County Sheriff via AP, file)

This photo provided by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, shows Ryan Payne, one of the members of an armed group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as part of a dispute over public lands in the Western U.S.

Four men accused of being the leaders of a criminal conspiracy that nearly erupted in violence in April 2014 are on trial in federal court.

All of them face decades in prison if convicted on even a few of the 15 charges they face in connection with the standoff between supporters of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and federal law enforcement officers attempting to secure a court-ordered cattle impoundment.

But one of those defendants, Montana-based militia coordinator Ryan Payne, appears to have the odds stacked against him.

Nevada Public Radio contributor John L. Smith has been at the trial. He said that Ryan's statements about his role in the standoff could hurt him. 

Payne - a veteran of several tours of duty in Iraq - came from Montana in an effort to keep the Bundy family safe from what he felt was an overreaching and aggressive federal government.

At the time of the standoff, both he and Cliven Bundy were miles away at Camp Liberty. They were not on the front lines.

But it was Payne's statements after the standoff that could get him into the most trouble, Smith said.

"It’s really not just about what Payne said before the standoff, not just about what he did during the standoff, but it is actually about what he said after the standoff that I think complicates his defense for some very hard-working public defenders," he said.

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Payne did an interview with the Missoula Independent a few months after the standoff where he told the reporter that he was the guy who put together the strategy for the standoff.

“He also says – in clear terms – they had snipers trained on each BLM officer and that one wrong move and they all would have been dead," Smith said.

Smith said statements like those complicate things for his attorneys. He said Payne's public defenders did a great job with opening statements trying to remind the jury that Payne has views they may not agree with.

“He tried to soften the blow with jurors because I have a feeling that the prosecution is going to take the available materials and the statements that some of which are on video from different interviews that he conducted and put together a kind of portrait of a fellow who was dangerous,” he said.

The defense is trying to show his motive for packing up his Jeep and heading south wasn't to confront the government but to protect people.

“Over and over again, the attorney reiterated that he was there to keep safe and the result was people remained safe,” Smith said.

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John L. Smith , contributor

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