by David Boyle, Staff writer
(Updated at 8:45 p.m.) A twelve-man jury returned two guilty verdicts each against Phil Lyman and Monte Wells in a federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. Shane Marian and Trent Holliday are not guilty on all counts. The verdicts were announced after the jury deliberated for seven hours.
The men are convicted of conspiracy for organizing and participating in a May 10, 2014 protest at Recapture Canyon east of Blanding. They each face one year in jail and a $100,000 fine for each count.
The verdict of four San Juan County men charged in the May, 2014 Recapture Canyon protest is in the hands of a twelve-member jury. Commissioner Phil Lyman, Monte Wells, Shane Marian and Trent Holliday each face two federal misdemeanor charges for organizing and participating in the protest. The three-day trial concluded this afternoon before Federal Judge Robert Shelby in a Salt Lake City federal court.
Over the course of the trial, the US Attorney presented a large volume of evidence that the men helped to conceive, organize and participate in the ride.
In contrast, the defense called a single witness while arguing that the protesters had a “good faith” reason to believe that the canyon was open.
Ferd Johnson, the water master for the San Juan Water Conservancy District, testified that he gave permission for the protest to take place on a pipeline maintenance road through a right-of-way granted to the district by the BLM.
Johnson “left the gate open, literally and figuratively” said the defense attorney in closing arguments.
The prosecution presented closing arguments this morning, stating, "We are here because these four defendants crossed the line."
They showed that beginning as early as February, 2014, Phil Lyman planned to ride the trail in protest. The evidence includes emails to the BLM, letters to the Deseret News and other media, and a lunch meeting with BLM State Director Juan Palma.
Monte Wells' involvement includes participating at the lunch meeting and by publishing articles on his website.
At the protest, Holliday and Marian, along with Wells and Lyman, arrived at the rally and crossed the boundary line.
Prosecutors argued against the "good faith" argument of the defense, stating that if Ferd Johnson had given permission to access the San Juan Water Conservancy District right-of-way as early as March, 2014, Lyman would have mentioned it in documents and statements. The prosecution further argued that the men did not use the right of way to maintain the water pipeline.
Nathan Crane, Wells' attorney, presented his closing arguments. Crane argued that Lyman's actions were as an elected official representing his constituents. Defense argued that Lyman had no plans to ride on the illegal portion of the trail.
Crane said that Lyman did not share with the BLM his permission granted by Ferd Johnson to access the pipeline trail because he doesn't trust them and could have worried that they would have sought to withdraw their permission given to the water conservancy district.
Crane argued that Wells was at the meeting with Juan Palma, and covered the events leading up to and including the protest, as a journalist. Crane argued that journalists are not required to be neutral in their news coverage. Crane closed by arguing that his client had reasonable belief that he had permission to be there through the water conservancy district.
Attorneys for Holliday and Marian argued that the evidence that the men were present at the rally does not imply that they were conspiring to ride their ATV's illegally. They said that following an elected official, in what they assumed was a legal ride, does not infer guilt.
The attorneys said that the government burden is to prove that they "knowingly and willfully broke the law" and the evidence does not prove that.
Phil Lyman’s attorney said that all Lyman's actions are as a political figure and that his call for the protest never explicitly said they would ride ATV's illegally on the closed portion of the trail.
In recalling Ferd Johnson's testimony, Stubbs said Johnson is a, "salt of the earth, honest, hardworking man." Stubbs argued that Johnson gave his express permission, and left the gate open.
Stubbs pointed out that the BLM closure sign says ATV use is forbidden "except for authorized or permitted use." Stubbs said Johnson gave that permission. Stubbs closed his argument by stating the US government did not reach their burden of proof.
Prosecutor said the jury must make their decision based on facts and evidence and said the defense used speculation to guess what the defendants intentions were. He asked again, why did Lyman not bring forth the supposed permission by Ferd Johnson before the protest ride?
The jury was urged to use the evidence to assert the state of mind of the defendants. "They knew what they were doing was wrong, they did it anyway”
As of 6:30 p.m., the jury is still in deliberation. A court official said that juries have deliberated into the night in previous cases. It is still anticipated that a verdict could be reached today.