Many Capitol Riot Cases Could Hinge on 1st Trial’s Outcome

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Washington — 

The Justice Department launched one of many largest and most advanced legal investigations in its historical past after a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol over a year in the past. Now it is time for a jury to listen to a number of the authorities’s proof concerning the unparalleled assault on American democracy.

The first trial for one of many lots of of Capitol riot prosecutions begins this week, with jury choice beginning Monday within the case in opposition to Guy Wesley Reffitt. The Texas man is charged with bringing a gun onto Capitol grounds, interfering with law enforcement officials guarding the constructing, and threatening his teenage youngsters in the event that they reported him to authorities. Jurors may hear attorneys’ opening statements as quickly as Tuesday.

Reffitt’s trial could also be a bellwether for a lot of different Capitol riot instances. A conviction would give prosecutors extra leverage in plea talks with rioters dealing with essentially the most critical expenses. An acquittal could lead others to attend for their very own day in court docket.

Reffitt “truly is the canary in the coal mine,” mentioned Gregg Sofer, a former federal prosecutor who served as U.S. legal professional for the Western District of Texas from October 2020 to February 2021.

“It’ll really be interesting to see how strong a case the government has and whether or not they’re relying on evidence that, when pushed and tested, stands up. It’s going to have a huge impact going forward,” added Sofer, now a associate on the regulation agency Husch Blackwell.

Reffitt is a member of a militia-style group known as the “Texas Three Percenters,” in response to prosecutors. The Three Percenters militia motion refers back to the fable that solely 3% of Americans fought within the Revolutionary War in opposition to the British.

On Jan. 6, 2021, Reffitt was armed with a handgun in a holster on his waist, carrying zip-tie handcuffs and carrying physique armor and a helmet outfitted with a video digital camera when he and others charged at law enforcement officials on the west facet of the Capitol, in response to prosecutors.

“This action caused the police line guarding the building to retreat closer to the building itself; soon after this, law enforcement was overwhelmed, and rioters flooded the building,” prosecutors wrote in a court docket submitting.

Reffitt retreated solely after an officer pepper sprayed him within the face, prosecutors mentioned.

Prosecutors consider Reffitt took not less than two firearms with him to Washington: an AR-15 rifle and a Smith & Wesson pistol. When FBI brokers searched Reffitt’s residence in Wylie, Texas, they discovered a handgun in a holster on a nightstand within the defendant’s bed room. Prosecutors say images and video of Reffitt in the course of the riot present a handgun holster on his proper hip, with what seems to be a silver object contained in the holster.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Reffitt mentioned he deliberate to “do the recon and then come back for weapons hot” and despatched messages about meeting at a “rendezvous point,” in response to prosecutors.

“These messages, along with the weapons that Reffitt carried and the gear he wore, make clear that the defendant did not come to D.C. with the intention to engage in peaceful activity,” prosecutors wrote.

The siege resulted within the deaths of 5 folks, together with a police officer. The Justice Department says greater than 235 rioters have been charged with assaulting or impeding regulation enforcement, injuring over 100 officers. Rioters precipitated over $1 million in harm to the Capitol.

The Justice Department says its investigation has generated an unprecedented quantity of proof, with lots of of hundreds of paperwork and hundreds of hours of movies to share with protection attorneys. Shared recordsdata whole greater than 9 terabytes of knowledge and would take over 100 days to view, the division says.

More than 750 folks have been charged with federal crimes associated to the riot. Over 200 of them have pleaded responsible, largely to misdemeanors carrying a most sentence of six months’ imprisonment. More than 100 riot defendants have been sentenced. And not less than 90 others have trial dates this year.

Philadelphia-based protection legal professional Justin Danilewitz, who was a federal prosecutor in New Jersey from 2012 to 2017, mentioned a conviction in Reffitt’s case could result in a flurry of responsible pleas by different riot defendants.

“And that can benefit defendants on occasion because it’s better than the alternative if the alternative is a conviction following a trial,” Danilewitz added.

An acquittal may encourage different defendants to “dig in their heels” and both push for a greater plea supply from prosecutors or gamble a trial of their very own, he mentioned.

Defense legal professional William Welch has mentioned there is no such thing as a proof that Reffitt broken property, used drive or bodily harmed anyone. In a May 2021 court docket submitting, Welch mentioned not one of the movies or images reveals a gun in Reffitt’s possession on the Capitol.

“In fact, neither of the police officers interviewed by the government said anything about a firearm,” he wrote.

Reffitt has been jailed since his arrest in Texas lower than per week after the riot. He faces 5 counts: obstruction of an official continuing, being unlawfully current on Capitol grounds whereas armed with a firearm, transporting firearms throughout a civil dysfunction, interfering with regulation enforcement officers throughout a civil dysfunction, and obstruction of justice.

The obstructing justice cost stems from threats that he allegedly made in opposition to his son, then 18, and daughter, then 16, after returning residence from Washington. Reffett instructed his youngsters to “choose a side or die” and mentioned they’d be traitors in the event that they reported him to regulation enforcement, prosecutors mentioned.

“He predicted future political violence in statements both to his family and to fellow militia members, bragged to fellow militia members about his involvement in the riot, recruited other rioters into the militia, and ordered bear spray and riot shields to his home to prepare for further violence,” prosecutors wrote.

Messages recovered from Reffitt’s cellphone point out he deliberate to hitch an armed revolt on Jan. 6 and supposed to occupy the Capitol, prosecutors mentioned.

“We had thousands of weapons and fired no rounds yet showed numbers. The next time we will not be so cordial,” he wrote, in response to prosecutors.

Presiding over Reffitt’s trial is U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2017. Friedrich already has sentenced 9 rioters who pleaded responsible.

Friedrich individually questioned greater than 30 potential jurors on Monday, asking them how carefully they’ve adopted information protection of the Capitol riot. Some mentioned they’d shaped sturdy, unfavourable opinions concerning the occasions of Jan. 6 however may attempt to be truthful and neutral.

The decide disqualified a number of members of the jury pool who mentioned they’d have problem setting apart their opinions or feelings concerning the riot. One of them, a person who lives close to the Capitol, mentioned the riot felt like “an attack on my home in some sense.”

“It was a very scary time,” he instructed the decide.

Jury choice is scheduled to renew Tuesday. The decide mentioned she hopes to empanel a jury to listen to opening statements later within the day.

Prosecutors count on to name a few dozen witnesses, together with three Capitol law enforcement officials who interacted with Reffitt and an officer who was in command of the U.S. Capitol Police command middle.

Jurors will see movies that captured Reffitt’s confrontation with police. Prosecutors even have audio recordings of Reffitt speaking concerning the riot inside his residence after returning residence.

“We made a point. That was a historic day,” Refffitt mentioned throughout one of many recorded conversations, in response to prosecutors. “And guess what? I’m not done yet. I got a lot more to do. That’s the beginning.”

Reffitt’s son, daughter and a fellow Texas Three Percenter group member are also listed as authorities witnesses. The group members traveled with Reffitt to Washington and again to Texas between Jan. 4 and Jan. 8, 2021.

“During the drive (to Washington), Reffitt talked about ‘dragging those people out of the Capitol by their ankles’ and installing a new government,” prosecutors wrote.

A court docket submitting that refers back to the different militia member by the initials “R.H.” says the person will inform jurors he was given immunity from prosecution in change for his testimony.

Welch has mentioned Reffiitt labored as a rig supervisor and as a advisor within the petroleum trade earlier than COVID-19 restrictions successfully shut down his business.