Update 12/20/17: US District Court Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial on Wednesday in the prosecution of Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and Montana militiaman Ryan Payne, saying that the government had willfully withheld evidence from defense lawyers that was potentially helpful to their case, in violation of legal rules. Navarro set a new trial date of February 26, but that could change at a hearing scheduled for January if she decides the government’s conduct is so egregious that the charges should be dismissed entirely.
On the November day when the trial of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was supposed to start in Las Vegas, I met a man outside the courtroom named Doug Knowles. A Bundy supporter who had been covering the proceedings for a conservative website, Knowles confidently assured me, “This case is never going to get to a jury.”
I thought he was overly optimistic. After all, on its face, the government’s case seems like a slam dunk. Much of what the Bundys and the other defendants did was captured on video. The photos of protesters pointing semi-automatic weapons in the direction of federal officers are damning. The government has thousands of emails and Facebook messages from the Bundys and others implicating them in the effort to recruit armed gunmen to face down federal officers. At least one of the original defendants in the case has taken a plea deal in which he agreed to help the prosecution.
Barely a month later, though, Knowles’ prediction seems prescient. The government’s case against Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and Montana militiaman Ryan Payne over their participation in the armed standoff near Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, is in shambles. A federal judge, Gloria Navarro, could declare a mistrial as early as Wednesday based on allegations that the prosecution has failed to turn over critical evidence to the defense in a timely fashion. If that happens, it would mark the fourth time in the past year and a half that the Justice Department has put the Bundys and their supporters on trial