LAS VEGAS, April 13 (Reuters) - A jury is due to begin deliberations after closing arguments conclude on Thursday in the trial of six men accused of acting as gunmen for cattle rancher Cliven Bundy in a tense 2014 standoff with federal law enforcement officers.
The six defendants are the first of 17 people to go on trial on charges related to the standoff at Bundy's property near Bunkerville, 75 miles (120 km) northeast of Las Vegas, in a case that has come to symbolize tensions in the U.S. West over the federal ownership of land that ranchers use to graze cattle.
The defendants were among hundreds who traveled to the ranch to stand up for Bundy, whose refusal to pay $1 million in grazing fees for running his cattle on federal land had become a cause celebre on the political right.
Bundy and two of his sons are defendants in the second of three scheduled federal trials later this year.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberation as early as Thursday afternoon after closing arguments for the defendants are completed.
Gregory Burleson, O. Scott Drexler, Todd Engel, Ricky Lovelien, Eric Parker and Steven Stewart are charged with conspiracy against the government, conspiracy to impede a federal officer, assault, threatening and obstruction of justice.
They are also charged with extortion, interstate travel in aid of extortion and using a firearm during a crime of violence.
During the eight-week trial, defense attorneys have described their clients as patriotic citizens who learned from social media and the internet of federal efforts to remove Bundy’s cattle from federal public lands.
Lawyers for the defendants said in their closing arguments on Wednesday that the men did not pose a threat but were simply backing Bundy in a dispute over the government's land-use policy.
Prosecutors, however, have claimed the men were willing to use “armed force, threats and intimidation” to enforce Bundy’s desire to see his impounded cattle returned.
“They thought they were going to die out there for simply carrying out their duties,” Assistant United States Attorney Nicholas Dickinson said during closing arguments on Wednesday in reference to the outgunned Bureau of Land Management rangers and National Park Service officers who were assigned to provide security for a court-ordered roundup of Bundy’s cattle.
The trial in U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro’s courtroom made use of voluminous audio, video and still photography that captured the drama, which ended peacefully. (Reporting by John L. Smith in Las Vegas; Editing by Brendan O'Brien and Tom Heneghan)