Dually Indicted Internet Talk Show Host Pete Santilli Motions to Sever His Nevada Case from Co-Defendants

pete-santilli-severs-case-bundy-ranch

IMAGE SOURCE: YouTube screencap

By CHERI ROBERTS for Challenging the Rhetoric

In a May 22, motion filed in Nevada’s 9th Circuit, attorney for jailed internet talk show host, Peter Thomas Santilli, of the Pete Santilli show, requested to have his Nevada case severed from that of his 18 co-defendants.

There are currently a total of 19 individuals charged for their participation in the April 12, 2014, Bunkerville, Nevada, Bundy Ranch standoff with the BLM and other authorities over land use. 

Page 43 of the indictment, alleges Santilli was involved in a conspiracy stating,

Santilli was a leader and organizer of the conspiracy who, among other things: recruited Followers using the internet and other facilities in interstate commerce; led an assault on federal officers; threatened federal law enforcement officers; and participated in the extortion of the federal law enforcement officers.”

In yesterday’s motion, Santilli attorney, Chris T. Rasmussen, notes,

At no time did Santilli appear at the wash during the alleged ‘Stand off’. Santilli was in the medium of Interstate 15 charging his batteries through his vehicle’s power supply when the infamous stand off took place.”

He also reminds the judge, that Santilli was unarmed, and claims Santilli’s defense is entirely different than that of the others, stating,

His broadcasts were his advocacy toward the plight of the ranchers in the western states that were losing control over land. These broadcasts are protected speech by the First Amendment, but are also being used as direct evidence against Santilli

Rasmussen further argues for Santilli’s severance, citing Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14.

Rule 14 provides:

Relief from Prejudicial Joinder. If it appears that a defendantor the government is prejudiced by a joinder of offenses or of defendants in an indictment or information or by such joinder for trial together, the Court may order an election or separate trials of counts, grant a severance of defendants or provide whatever other relief justice requires

A favorable ruling is at the judge’s discretion however, the defendant must demonstrate that a joint trial is “so manifestly”prejudicial that it outweighs the dominant concern with judicial economy and compels the exercise of the court’s discretion to sever.

The two particular reasons given for the severance request were:

1. Santilli will be denied access to the exculpatory testimony of his co-defendants.

In addition, Santilli will request to have his separate trial held after that of the other indictees.

Hoped for exculpatory testimony, whether subpoena’d or voluntary, from current co-defendants on his behalf, are believed, by Santilli, to be within his Constitutional rights to facilitate. Without severing, Santilli feels they would instead, plead the fifth.

According to the motion,

If a co-defendant is called as a witness and refuses to answer questions based on Fifth Amendment privilege, Santilli can seek to compel that testimony by requesting immunity as to statements made in court. At that time, Santilli could seek an order requiring the government to grant use immunity to the co-defendant’s testimony under 18 U.S.C. § 6003(b)(1). Such use of this statute is compelled by the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of compulsory process and by the Fifth Amendment’s due process considerations of fairness.

2. The jury is likely to find Santilli guilty by association

Citing Krulewitch v. United States, 336 U.S. 440, 454 (1949), Rasmussen claims it is too difficult to keep a jury’s mind separate on the individual defendants and their alleged crimes and how they may differ from one another.

A co-defendant in a conspiracy trial occupies an uneasy seat.This generally will be evidence of wrongdoing by somebody.It is difficult for the individual to make his own case stand on its own merits in the minds of jurors who are ready to believe that birds of a feather flocked together.

Rasmussen maintains, Santilli is a “new breed”of news journalist, adding,

Santilli will be presenting almost exclusively First Amendment defenses to the indictment.”  

For Santilli to run a defense as a journalist, it has been crucial that he separate his case in order to show that “he” is not “we”, in any further court proceedings. Why it has taken this long is anybody’s guess. Will he follow suit in Oregon as well? It seems likely.

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