A federal appeals court in San Francisco has denied the Justice Department's motion for a retrial in the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who led an armed standoff against federal agents over cattle grazing near his ranch in 2014.
The decision Thursday comes more than two years after Bundy, two of his sons and Montana militiaman Ryan Payne walked out of the federal courthouse in Las Vegas as free men. The government's case collapsed after a mistrial in which prosecutors were admonished for failing to turn over evidence and for not disclosing the existence of surveillance camera footage and federal snipers stationed by Bundy's house near the town of Bunkerville.
In May, federal prosecutors argued that any missteps they made in the original trial were inadvertent. But in the latest ruling, 9th Circuit judges ruled the lower court acted within its authority in dismissing the indictments against Bundy and his co-defendants, while also barring the criminal complaints from being refiled.
Bundy's attorney, conservative activist Larry Klayman, said the family is relieved that "this nightmare is over."
"After two years of illegal incarceration, [my client] had to endure a sham and fraudulent trial where exculpatory evidence was hidden," Klayman said in a statement.
The latest ruling is not seen as much of a surprise, according to legal observers who have long accused the federal government of bungling the case against the rancher and his supporters.
Despite a litany of federal court decisions and widely held legal opinions, Bundy has refused to recognize federal control of public lands in Nevada, where his cattle have grazed illegally in and around the Lake Mead National Recreation Area since the 1990s.
The federal Bureau of Land Management has long maintained Bundy owes more than a million dollars in unpaid grazing lease fees. The latest case against Bundy began during the Obama administration. In the Trump era, his trial had initially been overseen by an acting U.S. attorney in Nevada. President Trump later pardoned two Oregon ranchers whose fight with federal land managers had inspired a separate armed standoff involving the Bundy family in Oregon in 2016.
The pardon by Trump was widely seen as a signal that prosecuting the Bundys was no longer a top priority.