LAS VEGAS (AP) — A judge called a New Hampshire man a “bully vigilante” and sentenced him Wednesday to more than seven years in prison for his role organizing armed backers of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy after a standoff with U.S. agents in 2014.
Gerald “Jerry” DeLemus became the first person sentenced for his ties to the confrontation that became a rallying cry for those who want vast stretches of federal land in the U.S. West put under local control. Eighteen others are in custody.
DeLemus has been jailed for almost 16 months, so the sentence means the 62-year-old former U.S. Marine will spend about six more years behind bars. His attorney, Dustin Marcello, said he will appeal.
DeLemus arrived at the Bundy ranch hours after the tense armed standoff that led to the release of the rancher’s cattle and was hailed as a victory in a decades-long fight over government-owned land.
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He then spent more than a month in an encampment organizing armed patrols and serving as an intermediary between a self-styled militia and local authorities.
He had been expected to get a six-year sentence after pleading guilty last August to conspiracy to commit an offense against the U.S. and interstate travel in aid of extortion.
But Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro in Las Vegas added time after faulting DeLemus for trying to withdraw his pleas. She said she didn’t think he accepted responsibility for his actions.
“I have to say, Mr. DeLemus, that you unfortunately are blinded by the information you choose to believe,” she said.
Instead of advising Bundy to abide by court orders to pay 20 years of overdue grazing fees or let agents round up his cattle from public land, Navarro said DeLemus became “a bully vigilante, threatening peacekeepers of the community.”
“I never heard you say you told Mr. Bundy … to follow the law,” she said.
DeLemus told the judge that he traveled cross-country with weapons because he’d heard that government snipers surrounded the Bundy home. He said he was willing to “take a bullet” to protect the family.
“My concern was that someone would get hurt,” he said, choking back tears. “It wasn’t the cows. I didn’t want that family injured. God will know in the end.”
DeLemus said he never would have shot at law enforcement. He cast himself as a martyr to his Christian beliefs and cited a biblical passage that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
“I may not have given it out there,” he said of the standoff near Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. “I’m giving it now, in jail.”
DeLemus once ran for sheriff and mayor in his hometown of Rochester, New Hampshire, and served as a delegate to the Republican National Committee.
His wife, Susan DeLemus, a former Republican state lawmaker, sat among Bundy supporters in court, where several waved and thanked DeLemus as he was led away.
“We’ll make it through this,” she said later.
Bundy, two of his sons and two other defendants are due for trial later this year. Six others, including two other Bundy sons, may not be tried until early next year.