Bunkerville defendant seeks trial postponement

In wake of Las Vegas shooting, Ryan Payne wants jury selection delayed.


Update: In a court hearing Oct. 6, the trial was postponed to begin Oct. 30 in Las Vegas.

A key defendant in an upcoming trial for Cliven Bundy and his supporters has asked for a postponement, following Sunday night’s deadly shooting in Las Vegas.

Ryan Payne, a defendant in the Nevada trial related to the 2014 armed standoff with the federal government, says jury selection — scheduled for next week — should not be held so soon after the mass shooting.

“This unprecedented act of violence will prevent the defendants from having a fair trial in this city one week from now,” defense attorneys said in a motion filed Oct. 2. The lawyers wrote that no matter how extensive the selection process, the jury will most likely be “biased” because of the shock and outrage in the wider Las Vegas community in the wake of the shooting, which left 59 people dead, including the shooter, and hundreds more wounded. 

The Bunkerville trial revolves around the face-off between hundreds of armed supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy and federal agents tasked with impounding 1,000 head of Bundy Ranch cattle.

Rancher Cliven Bundy, center, flanked by armed supporters, speaks at a protest camp near Bunkerville, Nevada, following the April 2014 standoff.
AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher

Defendants face charges that include conspiracy to impede or injure federal officers and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. The government’s case hinges in part on photos and videos of some defendants carrying rifles and pointing them in the direction of law enforcement agents. Payne’s attorneys say these images will link the defendants to the Las Vegas massacre in the minds of the jurors.

“The shooter is a white male reported to be from Mesquite, Nevada — only a few miles away from the Bundy ranch and the site of the April 12, 2014, events in the wash by Highway I-15,” Payne’s motion reads. “Regardless of the facts, when and if they all come to light, many people have and will associate (the shooter) with Cliven Bundy and his supporters.”

Payne, a self-styled militia leader from Montana, is requesting next week’s trial date be postponed at least 60 days, when “Payne and the other parties have been able to assess the impact of the tragedy,” and to allow for “the passage of time to cool prospective jurors’ tempers.” U.S. District of Nevada Judge Gloria Navarro has yet to rule on the motion.

Defendant Ryan Bundy’s standby counsel indicated on Tuesday that her client could oppose Payne’s motion to delay the trial, according to court filings. Ammon Bundy’s attorney said his client supports the motion.

In addition to the request to postpone, another defendant, Pete Santilli, has agreed to plead guilty to felony conspiracy. His attorney, Chris Rasmussen, has withdrawn all pending motions on behalf of his client. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Rasmussen took the deal in part because the Las Vegas shooting “made him realize that this is a difficult case in trying to defend Second Amendment rights…. People aren’t going to be in the mood to hear about gunmen.” The paper also reported that plea deals for defendants Scott Drexler and Eric Parker were mentioned in court on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, defendant Gregory Burleson, who was found guilty of several charges this summer and sentenced to 68 years in prison for his part in the standoff, is preparing to appeal his case.

A hearing is scheduled for this Friday to address Payne’s motion to postpone the upcoming trial, if the motion is not resolved before then.  

Tay Wiles is an associate editor at High Country News. She can be reached at [email protected] 

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