Yesterday the jury in the trial of four men accused of offenses related to a standoff near the Bundy ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada sent a resounding message to prosecutors and the judge in the case by returning absolutely no Guilty verdicts.
Instead, jurors found Ricky Lovelien and Steven Stewart Not Guilty of all 10 charges against them. Jurors found Scott Drexler and Eric Parker Not Guilty of most charges against them, with the jury undecided on four charges against Parker and two charges against Drexler.
“There was not a dry eye in the room, except the prosecutors’, who were steaming mad, and the judge’s. I was literally bawling my eyes out,” said FIJA Advisory Board member Dr. Roger Roots, who was in the courtroom when the verdicts were delivered.
This is the second trial for all the defendants. They cannot be retried on those charges for which jurors delivered Not Guilty verdicts. However, they can be retried on any charges for which jurors failed to reach a verdict. It is not clear yet whether the prosecution will continue jury shopping in order to find jurors who will convict.
Demonstrators were publicly visible outside the courthouse in recent weeks, including several who educated the general public about jurors’ right of conscientious acquittal by jury nullification. While FIJA previously pointed out that the Malheur Refuge occupation acquittals were probably not the result of jury nullification, we have been keeping an eye on other related trials, such as this one, for potential conscientious acquittals.
According to Dr. Roots, “This was almost certainly jury nullification. I see no other realistic interpretation. I say that because the defense pretty much did not put on a case, and in fact, were not allowed to put on a case.”
Among other things, the judge forbade the defense from many lines of inquiry including
● how well-armed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents were or how frightened defendants were of a potential attack,
● any mention of bullying or physically violent behavior of BLM agents leading up to the protest (though the prosecution was allowed to bring up things that happened months beforehand),
● any reference whatsoever to Constitutional First or Second Amendment rights, and
● any testimony from five prospective defense witnesses, whose testimony Judge Navarro pre-screened outside the presence of the jury and ultimately rejected.
Navarro cut off defendant Eric Parker mid-testimony, and she kicked him off the stand for supposedly breaking the rules she laid down. At the time he was cut off, he was rebutting a statement made by a prosecution witness claiming that he looked in a particular direction. That testimony was allowed, but Parker was not allowed to testify that he looked up and to the right. After Not only that statement, but his entire testimony was stricken from the record. Jurors were ordered to disregard all of his testimony, leaving him completely voiceless in his own defense.
Defense attorney Jess Marchese confirmed after speaking with jurors that the treatment of the defense factored into their decisions.
“The court’s restrictive limitations on the defense were overtly aimed at stopping jury nullification, and yet the irony is that they absolutely fueled it,” Roots said.