The mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 has created a wrinkle in the trial of an Anaconda man. Ryan Payne, the self-styled militia leader who drove his Jeep Cherokee from Montana to Nevada in April 2014 to defend rancher Cliven Bundy, asked a Vegas judge this month to delay court proceedings for fear that the recent shooting deaths of 58 people might bias prospective jurors. Las Vegas, Payne's public defenders wrote in a legal motion Oct. 2, "is in mourning."
"In time, the community's justified shock and outrage about this tragedy may subside enough to allow a fair trial," the motion concluded. "Right now, however, the wounds are too fresh."
District Judge Gloria Navarro granted Payne's request Oct. 6, moving his trial date to Oct. 30.
Payne faces a list of charges in Nevada, including conspiracy and threatening a federal law enforcement officer. These stem from his involvement, in 2014, in the so-called Bunkerville standoff—an armed confrontation with the Bureau of Land Management over Bundy's cattle. Payne's co-defendants in the Nevada case include Cliven Bundy and his sons Ryan and Ammon. Payne pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a separate case earlier this year stemming from his involvement in the 41-day armed occupation of Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
That Payne should be wary of shifting public sentiment about guns is hardly surprising. Many images from Bunkerville show Bundy defenders openly carrying semi-automatic weapons and pointing those guns in the direction of federal agents. In an interview with the Indy shortly after his return from the standoff, Payne spoke candidly about the Bundy camp's "tactical superiority," claiming they had "counter-sniper positions on their sniper positions."
"If they made one wrong move," Payne said in 2014, "every single BLM agent in that camp would've died."
Payne's concern in Nevada extends beyond the trial's timing. In a separate motion filed Oct. 10, his attorneys requested that the current jury panel be disqualified and a new juror questionnaire be drafted to address the Vegas shooting. Payne proposed a number of new questions designed to gauge whether prospective jurors knew anyone who was killed or harmed in the shooting, had offered assistance to victims, or had changed their views about gun ownership as a result of the incident. (In the same motion, Ammon Bundy suggested asking jurors, "Do you agree with the recent op-eds in Salon, the New York Times and Rolling Stone calling for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment?")
Federal prosecutors responded that they were amenable to the inclusion of a question probing jurors' fairness and impartiality in light of the Vegas shooting. Asked Monday whether Judge Navarro had ruled on the motion to send a new questionnaire, Payne's assistant federal public defender, Brenda Weksler, replied by email: "Not yet."