This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Attorneys for four men charged with conspiracy after organizing a motorized ride up Recapture Canyon a year ago put on a simple defense in court Thursday calling just one witness.
The accused conspirators San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, blogger Monte Wells, Shane Marian and Franklin Trent Holliday did not testify in their own defense.
Instead, their attorneys called a single witness San Juan Water Conservancy District water master Ferd Johnson.
Johnson testified he gave Lyman and 50 protesters permission to drive up a road that goes about a mile or two into the section of the archeologically significant canyon the Bureau of Land Management had closed in 2007.
Federal land managers had granted the local water district a right-of-way to maintain a pipeline that runs along the canyon bottom for a few miles below Recapture Dam.
Then, the defense rested.
Much of the four-day trial's testimony has focused on the writings and interviews of the accused conspirators before the May 10 ATV rally both in traditional media and on Facebook.
Prosecutors submitted into evidence a 2014 opinion piece Lyman wrote for the Deseret News before the protest. At the time, Lyman wrote on his Facebook page that he was disappointed the newspaper did not publish his invitation to the protest.
U.S. attorneys also used recordings from San Juan County Commission meetings to show Lyman talked about the protest as a public official.
And they included an interview with KUTV Channel 2, when Lyman told a reporter, "I'm only breaking the law from a federal standpoint."
But Thursday's testimony nearly three hours focused on Facebook postings about the ride and who "liked" which postings.
The prosecution's conspiracy case was built on an investigation by BLM special agent Brian Loftin, an expert in Internet communication and social media.
Loftin's testimony Thursday detailed numerous Facebook postings by Lyman and Wells, Wells' blog articles critical of BLM's Recapture management and an interview with Lyman that Wells posted on YouTube a few days before the ride.
The postings invited the public to participate in the ride on routes BLM closed to keep tires off Recapture's archaeological sites. Wells reposted one of Lyman's posts under a picture of Uncle Sam declaring, "We Need You!!!"
Although he insisted the BLM had acted arbitrarily in closing part of the canyon, Lyman also explained on Facebook ways protesters could traverse the canyon legally by walking the closed route or riding other trails in and around the canyon that remained open to ATVs.
During the protest, however, dozens of riders drove the closed part of the canyon, including many who continued several miles down an overgrown trail that had been constructed without BLM approval.
As it happened, Lyman turned back where the pipeline road ended, just as he recommended in his blog posts.
After the defense rested, attorneys for all four defendants argued that prosecutors had failed to establish the existence of a conspiracy.
And in the case of Holliday and Marian, defense lawyers said federal prosecutors failed to produce any evidence that their clients participated in an alleged scheme that unfolded largely on Lyman's Facebook page and Wells' blog.
But prosecutors countered that the conspiracy was simply obvious.
"This was in open daylight," argued Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Bennett. "That doesn't make it more honorable. It makes it more brazen."
In the end, Shelby rejected defense motions to toss the conspiracy charge, concluding the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable juror to convict any of the defendants even Marian and Holliday, whose participation was limited to showing up at a tailgate social the night before and a rally the morning of the ride.
"There is evidence they were aware of the common purpose of this meeting and had an understanding of it …. and then engaged in the unlawful ride itself," Shelby said.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday morning, then the 12-member jury will begin deliberating.
Outside court Thursday, Lyman declined to comment to reporters. "Life is too short to look at you," he said.
If convicted, the men face up to one year in jail and $100,000 in fines.