Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal judge sentenced a Phoenix man Wednesday to 68 years in prison for his role as a gunman in a standoff that stopped federal agents from rounding up cattle near the Nevada ranch of anti-government activist Cliven Bundy three years ago.
Prosecutors had sought a maximum sentence of 73 years for Gregory Burleson after he was convicted of threatening and assaulting a federal officer, obstruction and traveling across state lines in aid of extortion.
But Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro in Las Vegas knocked five years off the recommendation, noting that the 53-year-old Burleson has gone blind, has serious health issues and was once an informant for the FBI.
Burleson's attorney, Terrence Jackson, said he will appeal.
Navarro said she believed Burleson and other armed men used "scare and bullying tactics" to put federal agents in such mortal fear that they abandoned attempts to enforce court orders to round up Bundy cattle in April 2014.
Navarro said the government employees suffered lasting psychological harm as a result of the encounter.
"Even though a shot was not fired," the judge declared, "the injuries were very real."
Bundy is a states' rights advocate and a leading figure in a decades-long fight by ranchers and others who maintain the federal government has no authority over vast stretches of public lands in the western United States.
Defendants in the case have maintained they were moved not by anti-government sentiment, but instead by images of U.S. Bureau of Land Management agents using stun guns and dogs against Bundy family members.
Burleson was not working for the FBI when he called for Arizona militia members to go with him to the Bundy ranch, and he didn't apologize Wednesday for traveling to the scene of the tense standoff.
The confrontation pitted heavily armed federal agents at the gates of corrals where several hundred Bundy cattle had been rounded up, against men with assault rifles on an Interstate 15 overpass and hundreds of protesters in a dry riverbed below.
"Yes, I was down in the wash," Burleson told the judge. "I did not go with the intention of killing anybody or assaulting anybody. It wasn't a planned tactical assault as the government says we did."
Burleson also conceded later posting "alcohol-fueled rants and raves" on Facebook about his role in making the government back down.
Defense attorney Jackson characterized Burleson as "mesmerized by his fame" after a photo was widely circulated showing him "holding a rifle in sort of a combat pose."
"It made Mr. Burleson feel important," Jackson said.
Burleson didn't testify during his April jury trial.
Jurors found co-defendant Todd Engel, 50, of Idaho guilty of obstruction and traveling across state lines in aid of extortion. Engel could face up to 30 years in prison at sentencing Sept. 28.
Two months of testimony failed to reach verdicts for four other defendants who are being retried.
Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and two other defendants are due for trial later this year. Six others, including two other Bundy sons, are slated for trial next year.