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In a stinging rebuke against federal prosecutors, Judge Gloria Navarro yesterday dismissed with prejudice all charges against Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and Montana resident Ryan Payne.
The dismissal came after evidence was found that the FBI had snipers around the Bundy Ranch compound in April 2014, when armed supporters had gathered to stop the impoundment of Bundy's cattle.
The impoundment was the culmination of a grazing dispute with the federal government that spanned a couple of decades.
The defense had argued that the presence of the snipers made the Bundys and their friends fear for their lives, and precipitated a call to arms. The prosecution argued that there were no snipers.
But evidence came out within the last few weeks that FBI snipers were at the site of the Bundy ranch. In fact, a thumb drive was discovered with FBI reports about those armed agents. The existence of this drive had not been disclosed to the defense or the judge.
Acting U.S. Attorney Steve Myhre argued that his prosecutors turned over so much evidence that the drive and the existence of the snipers were simply overlooked.
“According to one of their filings before the court, prosecutors said that they did their due diligence that in a case with voluminous evidence some things just not get turned over in a timely manner that it was inadvertent, not purposeful and certainly not willful,” Nevada Public Radio contributor John L. Smith said.
Judge Navarro disagreed.
Smith believes if the evidence had been turned over in a timely manner like it was supposed to be and if the prosecution hadn't portrayed the defense's efforts to find the material as a 'fishing expedition' it would have been much better for the prosecution, even though the evidence boosted the defenses' case.
“I think they really talked themselves into a corner when they went that far off either not knowing or knowing and hiding that kind of damaging information,” he said.
The decision means that the three Bundys and Payne will not be tried for this standoff again.
"I can’t imagine this case will resurface in any manner and that includes the next trial that was scheduled,” Smith said.
The decision could also impact some of the other defendants from previous trials connected to the standoff who were either convicted by a jury or agreed to pled guilty.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer here," Smith said, "They’re going to have to go back revisit all of this.”
As far as other ramifications, Smith said the Bundys now believe public land use issues and grazing rights are in focus because of the standoff and trials. There are also those who believe the state or the county is more likely to step into a dispute between a rancher and the federal government in the future.
“Still others believe the Bundys' Ranch and family are outliers in this case. That most ranchers get along pretty well with the BLM,” Smith said.
He said most ranchers pay the money for grazing because they believe they're getting a pretty good deal to run cattle on public land.
And as far as the cattle is concerned, that part of the story has not been settled. The BLM agents let the cattle go and they've been grazing in the same area for the past four years.
No one is entirely sure what will happen in the underlying grazing fees case, but Smith hopes "cooler heads will prevail" and there won't be a Standoff II.
John L. Smith, contributor