LAS VEGAS (AP) — An Idaho man whose photo as an armed protester in Nevada was seen around the world returns to the witness stand Monday with trial nearing an end for six defendants accused of wielding weapons against federal agents during a 2014 standoff involving cattleman and states’ rights advocate Cliven Bundy.
Eric Parker faces cross-examination after telling a jury in Las Vegas last week that he drove with two friends Bunkerville to protest what he felt were heavy-handed tactics by federal authorities dispersing and arresting protesters and rounding up Bundy cattle from public land.
“I was not looking for a fight, but I was not going to be bullied into not exercising my First Amendment,” Parker testified Thursday. He referred to the constitutional right to speak freely, assemble and air grievances to the government.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers are preparing for closing arguments, possibly Tuesday, in the first of three planned trials arising from the confrontation that ended with the federal Bureau of Land Management abandoning the roundup of Bundy cattle.
Trial is expected to start next month in U.S. District Court for Cliven Bundy, sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and two other defendants who are characterized by prosecutors as leaders of a conspiracy to defy court orders to get the cows off public land. Trial for another six defendants would follow.
The six men currently standing trial are considered gunmen and followers in the confrontation. They face conspiracy, weapon and assault on a federal agent charges that could get each up to 101 years in federal prison.
Attorneys for Gregory Burleson of Arizona, Richard Lovelien of Oklahoma, and Idaho residents Scott Drexler, Todd Engel and Steven Stewart have not said whether their clients will testify.
“The big thing is the conspiracy charge,” said Todd Leventhal, attorney for Drexler. “There was no conspiracy to do anything other than protest, and that’s not illegal.”
Jurors have heard from nearly 40 prosecution witnesses during two months of testimony. They heard last week from three defense witnesses and from Parker, 33, an electrician and father of two from Hailey, Idaho.
He was famously photographed in a prone position on a freeway overpass looking with an AK-47 style rifle through a seam in a concrete freeway barrier toward heavily armed federal agents in a dry riverbed below.
The tense scene had flag-waving riders on horseback and more than 100 unarmed protesters including women and children facing about 30 federal agents at the gate of a corral in the U-shaped wash beneath the highway bridge.
“I put my weapon through the Jersey barrier. I admit to that,” Parker said during questioning by his lawyer, Jess Marchese. “I made a decision. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. But I also didn’t want to see anybody get hurt in that wash.”
The crowd demanded the release of about 400 cows rounded up in the Gold Butte area about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
The agents demanded the crowd disperse, warning through loudspeakers that use of deadly force had been authorized.
Parker said he saw gunmen atop a mesa overlooking the area, and agents with body armor and rifles at the gate of a cattle corral below.
But he said he never had his finger on the trigger.
“I’m nervous. The people are moving up toward the gate and I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Parker testified. “I thought they were going to shoot people in the wash.”
The local sheriff brokered a truce, and after the cows were released Parker was interviewed by a man recording cellphone video on the overpass.
Force matching force averted violence, he told the man.