A jury this week handed an embarrassing defeat to federal prosecutors working to imprison four men the government accused of taking up arms against federal agents during the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff.
The Arizona Republic provided details on the Las Vegas federal jury’s decision on Tuesday:
Richard Lovelien of Oklahoma and Steven Stewart of Idaho were acquitted on all counts and walked out of court Tuesday night free after spending more than a year in prison.
“Both Ricky and I were teary-eyed,” Las Vegas defense lawyer Shawn Perez said of the verdict, “I was shaking … I have gotten not-guilty verdicts before, but this was really special to me.”
Two other defendants, Eric Parker and O. Scott Drexler, both of Idaho, were acquitted on the most serious charges of conspiracy and extortion, but jurors failed to reach unanimous verdicts on weapons and assault charges.
Both men could be allowed to go free after a detention hearing scheduled Wednesday morning. The court ordered both defendants to be released to a halfway house until Wednesday’s hearing.
“(Parker) is getting released as we speak,” Las Vegas defense lawyer Jess Marchese said Tuesday night. “He’s ecstatic.”
After the jury’s decision, U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro called for the hearing without any motions from the defense, Marchese said. “We didn’t bring it up,” he said.
Federal prosecutors had little to say about the verdicts.
This isn’t the first time a jury has declined to convict men involved in the standoff of conspiracy, extortion, assault and obstruction for aiding Bundy in fending off federal agents attempting to steal his cattle.
In April, Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked, unable to determine whether charges against Lovelien, Stewart, Parker and Drexler were legitimate.
During that trial, two other defendants were found guilty of various charges.
Gregory Burleson, 53, was convicted of charges, including: threatening and assaulting a federal agent, brandishing a weapon while committing a violent crime, obstruction of justice and traveling across state lines in aid of extortion.
Burleson’s conviction came after undercover FBI agents posing as documentary filmmakers caught him on camera saying he went to the Bundy Ranch with the intention to kill federal agents acting outside their constitutional authority.
Here’s some of the footage agents gathered via a clip from PBS’s Frontline:
Burleson was sentenced to 68 years in prison.
Fellow protestor Todd Engel was also convicted of obstruction of justice and interstate travel in aid of extortion during the April trial. His sentencing hearing is set for September.
Still, the government’s inability to secure convictions against any participants on conspiracy charges this week threatens to dismantle future federal efforts to prosecute participants in the 2014 standoff.
The next scheduled trial involving the standoff will include rancher Cliven Bundy, along with his sons Ammon and Ryan.