1st trial in Capitol riot ends in conviction on all counts

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Texas man was convicted on Tuesday of storming the U.S. Capitol with a holstered handgun, a milestone victory for federal prosecutors within the first trial amongst tons of of circumstances arising from final 12 months’s riot.

A jury additionally convicted Man Wesley Reffitt of obstructing Congress’ joint session to certify the Electoral Faculty vote on Jan. 6, 2021, of interfering with law enforcement officials who had been guarding the Capitol and of threatening his two teenage kids in the event that they reported him to regulation enforcement after the assault. Jurors deliberated about three hours and convicted him on all counts.

The decision may very well be a bellwether for a lot of different Capitol riot circumstances. It may give Justice Division prosecutors extra leverage in plea negotiations and discourage different defendants from playing on trials of their very own.

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, stated earlier than Reffitt’s trial began that it could be “the canary within the coal mine.”

“In case you’re a defendant awaiting trial at this level, the canary simply died,” stated Sofer, now a accomplice on the regulation agency Husch Blackwell. “I do assume it’s more likely to have an effect on individuals’s perceptions concerning the chance of their success.”

Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, didn’t testify at his trial, which began final Wednesday. He confirmed little seen response to the decision, however his face was lined by a masks.

Outdoors courtroom, his spouse Nicole stated the decision was “in opposition to all American individuals. If you are going to be convicted in your First Modification rights, all People must be cautious. This combat has simply begun.”

She stated her husband was getting used for instance by the federal government. “You’re all at risk,” she stated.

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In a press release after the decision, U.S. Legal professional Matthew Graves in Washington thanked the jury “for upholding the rule of regulation and for its diligent service on this case.”

In the course of the trial’s closing arguments on Monday, Assistant U.S. Legal professional Risa Berkower advised jurors that Reffitt drove to Washington, D.C., desiring to cease Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Reffitt proudly “lit the hearth” that allowed others in a mob to overwhelm Capitol law enforcement officials close to the Senate doorways, the prosecutor stated.

Reffitt was not accused of coming into the Capitol constructing. Protection legal professional William Welch stated there is no such thing as a proof that Reffitt broken property, used pressure or bodily harmed anyone.

He might be sentenced June 8. He may obtain 20 years in jail on the highest cost alone, however he is more likely to face far much less time behind bars. Different rioters have pleaded responsible; the longest sentence to date is 5 years and three months for Robert Palmer, a Florida man who pleaded responsible to attacking law enforcement officials on the Capitol.

The riot resulted within the deaths of 5 individuals, together with a police officer. Greater than 100 officers had been injured. Rioters prompted over $1 million in harm to the Capitol.

U.S. District Decide Dabney Friedrich presided over Reffitt’s trial. Trump nominated her in 2017.

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

Jurors noticed movies that captured the confrontation between just a few Capitol law enforcement officials and a mob of individuals, together with Reffitt, who approached them on the west facet of the Capitol.

Reffitt was armed with a Smith & Wesson pistol in a holster on his waist, carrying zip-tie handcuffs and sporting physique armor and a helmet geared up with a video digicam when he superior on police, in line with prosecutors. He retreated after an officer pepper sprayed him within the face, however he waved on different rioters who in the end breached the constructing, prosecutors stated.

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Earlier than the gang superior, Reffitt used a megaphone to shout at police to step apart and to induce the mob to push ahead and overtake officers. Assistant U.S. Legal professional Jeffrey Nestler stated Reffitt performed a management position that day.

Throughout final Friday’s testimony, prosecutors zoomed in on a video picture of Reffitt on the Capitol. FBI Particular Agent Laird Hightower stated the picture reveals “a silvery metallic linear object” in a holster protruding from underneath Reffitt’s jacket as he leaned ahead.

Shauni Kerkhoff, who was one of many Capitol law enforcement officials who tried to repel Reffitt, stated she launched pepperballs that didn’t cease him from advancing. She testified that Reffitt gave the impression to be main the gang up stairs towards police.

Reffitt’s 19-year-old son, Jackson, testified final Thursday that his father threatened him and his sister, then 16, after he drove house from Washington. Reffitt advised his kids they might be traitors in the event that they reported him to authorities and stated “traitors get shot,” Jackson Reffitt recalled.

He stated the menace terrified him. His youthful sister, Peyton, was listed as a doable authorities witness however didn’t testify. She stated that she would speak extra in a while her personal time, however: “Youngsters ought to by no means be used in opposition to the mother and father.”

Jackson Reffitt used a cellphone app to secretly report his father boasting about his position within the riot. Jurors heard excerpts of that household dialog.

Jackson Reffitt initially contacted the FBI on Christmas Eve, lower than two weeks earlier than the riot, to report considerations about his father’s habits and more and more worrisome rhetoric. However the FBI didn’t reply till Jan. 6, after the riot erupted.

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One other key witness, Rocky Hardie, stated he and Reffitt had been members of “Texas Three Percenters” militia group. The Three Percenters militia motion refers back to the fable that solely 3% of People fought within the Revolutionary Conflict in opposition to the British.

Hardie drove from Texas to Washington with Reffitt. He testified that each of them had been armed with holstered handguns after they attended then-President Donald Trump’s “Cease the Steal” rally earlier than the riot erupted. Reffitt additionally took an AR-15 rifle to Washington however left it locked up in his automobile, Hardie stated.

Hardie stated Reffitt talked about dragging lawmakers out of the Capitol and changing them with individuals who would “observe the Structure.” Hardie additionally stated Reffitt gave him two pairs of zip-tie cuffs in case they wanted to detain anyone.

Reffitt was arrested lower than per week after the riot. The FBI discovered a handgun in a holster on a nightstand within the defendant’s bed room after they searched his house close to Dallas.

Greater than 750 individuals have been charged with federal crimes associated to the riot. Over 220 of them have pleaded responsible, largely to misdemeanors. and over 110 of them have been sentenced. Roughly 90 others have trial dates.

Sofer, the previous prime federal prosecutor within the Western District of Texas, stated Reffitt’s trial reveals the federal government has “correct, good, dependable video that jurors are keen to concentrate to.”

“You need to take a look at it and say that is extraordinarily worrisome in case you’re a defendant,” he stated. “The flip facet is the federal government can really feel good that it’s within the driver’s seat fairly strongly right here.”