The majority of the 19 defendants charged in the 2014 Bunkerville standoff — including rancher Cliven Bundy and four of his sons — indicated Friday they want to exercise their constitutional rights and go to trial as soon as possible.
The move appeared to surprise prosecutors, who told a federal judge that they had previously obtained the support of most of the defendants for an eight-month trial delay until February.
Many of the defendants and their lawyers announced in court that they had changed their minds, prompting the lead prosecutor in the case, Steven Myhre, to suggest some were “playing games” with the “extremely serious charges” they are facing.
All 19 defendants, who are in federal custody, appeared together for the first time. They were dressed in jail garb and chains and, with their lawyers, filled up the courtroom, including the jury box. A dozen deputy U.S. marshals were on hand for extra security.
Myhre said the trial delay was needed to give prosecutors more time to turn over to the defendants the massive amount of evidence authorities have collected since the April 12, 2014, armed confrontation with law enforcement near Bunkerville.
Most of the defendants are facing conspiracy, extortion, firearms and assault charges that could land them in prison for the rest of their lives if convicted.
Defense lawyers argued they needed to see the government’s evidence to make an informed decision about giving up their clients’ constitutional speedy-trial rights. The defendants have a right to go to trial within 70 days of being charged.
The defense arguments prompted U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen to order prosecutors to turn over a large portion of the evidence within two weeks.
Leen promised a written decision later on whether to declare the case complex and delay the trial into next year. She issued an order in the meantime putting off the scheduled May 2 trial without setting a new date.
She also ordered defense lawyers to let her know by next Friday their position on the government’s proposed protective order barring the lawyers from giving copies of key trial evidence, including government investigative reports, to the public and media. Prosecutors contend the order is needed to protect the safety of witnesses.
But many of the defense lawyers believe the proposed order is too broad.