(Reuters) - Two supporters of renegade Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy each pleaded guilty on Monday to obstructing a U.S. court order for their role in a 2014 showdown between armed militia members and federal agents who had seized Bundy’s cattle.
Eric J. Parker, 34, and O. Scott Drexler, 47, both from Idaho, each faces up to a year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine for taking part in the standoff, which became a rallying cry for right-wing extremists challenging U.S. government authority in the American West.
Both defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 2, 2018, federal prosecutors in Las Vegas said in a statement announcing the guilty pleas.
The two men, accused of threatening law enforcement officers with guns, were originally tried on several more serious charges for which they faced at least 57 years in prison if convicted.
Defense lawyers argued that the two men, along with four co-defendants, were exercising constitutionally protected rights to assembly and to bear arms, casting the showdown as a patriotic act of civil disobedience against government over-reach.
Although two of the six defendants were convicted, four others, including Parker and Drexler, won a mistrial in April when jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict in the case against them.
A retrial in August ended with the jury finding Parker and Drexler not guilty on most of the charges, but deadlocked on other counts. Rather than seek another retrial, prosecutors negotiated a deal with Parker and Drexler to settle the unresolved charges.
The pair ended up pleading guilty to one count each of obstructing the federal court order that had led U.S. officers to seize 400 of Bundy’s cattle after he refused to pay the required fees to graze his livestock on public lands.
Parker and Drexler were among hundreds of supporters, many of them armed, who rallied to Bundy’s cause. Outgunned federal agents retreated rather than risk bloodshed in the ensuing standoff near Bunkerville, Nevada, and Bundy’s followers prevailed in recovering his herd.
But Bundy and others who participated in the confrontation, including four of his sons, were later charged with conspiracy, assault and other offenses. The elder Bundy, sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and a third supporter face trial next week.
The two Bundy brothers and five other people were acquitted in a separate federal court trial in Portland last October of conspiracy charges stemming from an armed takeover of a U.S. wildlife center in Oregon in 2016.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Tait