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Cliven Bundy, Nevada rancher who defied U.S. government, begins trial

Cliven Bundy, Nevada rancher who defied U.S. government, begins trial
From CBC - November 14, 2017

A stubborn rancher's refusal to recognize federal authority in the West will be presented to a jury in Las Vegas, where a trial is set to start Tuesday for cattleman Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and a co-defendant accused of leading a 2014 armed standoff against government agents.

Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, the lead prosecutor, has accused the Bundys of trying to instigate a "range war" against federal agents who were enforcing lawful court orders after Bundy racked up more than $1.1 million US in unpaid fees and penalties letting cattle graze for decades in what is now Gold Butte National Monument.

Defense attorneys say the four men did not conspire with anyone and did not wield weapons. They say no shots were fired in the standoff near Bunkerville, about 120 kilometresnortheast of Las Vegas.

Each defendant faces 15 felony charges, including conspiracy, assault and threats against federal officers, firearms counts, obstruction and extortion. Stacked together, convictions on all charges carry the possibility of more than 170 years in prison.

The trial sets up as a test of public land policies in Western U.S. states such as Nevada, where the federal government controls about 85 percent of the land and juries have twice balked at full convictions of men who had guns during the tense April 2014 confrontation.

Bundy argues that his family has used the same public range for more than a century, and the land belongs to the state not the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Refused toenter pleas

The trial is expected to be contentious. The 71-year-old Bundy, son Ammon Bundy and co-defendant Ryan Payne have been jailed since early 2016, and each refused to enter a plea saying he did not recognize the authority of the government. A magistrate judge entered not-guilty pleas for them.

Openings in the long-awaited trial were postponed at the last minute last week, amid a fight about whether prosecutors properly disclosed evidence about surveillance cameras watching the Bundy homestead.

The defendants also asked to be released to a halfway house during proceedings that are expected to take about four months.

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