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

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Texas man was convicted on Tuesday of storming the U.S. Capitol with a holstered handgun, a landslide victory for federal prosecutors in the first trial among hundreds of cases. deriving from last year’s riot.

A jury also found Guy Wesley Reffitt guilty of obstructing the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6, 2021, interfering with police officers guarding the Capitol, and threatening his two teenage sons. they reported it to law enforcement. after the attack. The jurors deliberated for approximately three hours and found him guilty on all counts.

The verdict could be an indicator for many other Capitol riot cases. This could give Justice Department prosecutors more leverage in plea negotiations and discourage other defendants from betting on their own trials.

Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, did not testify at his trial, which began last Wednesday. He showed little visible reaction to the verdict, but his face was covered with a mask.

During closing arguments in the trial on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower told jurors that Reffitt traveled to Washington, D.C., with the intention of preventing Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory. . Reffitt proudly “lit the fire” that allowed other members of a crowd to overwhelm Capitol police officers near the Senate doors, the prosecutor said.

Reffitt was not charged with entering the Capitol building. Defense attorney William Welch said there was no evidence Reffitt damaged property, used force or physically injured anyone.

The defense attorney urged jurors to acquit Reffitt of all but one charge: He said they should convict him on a misdemeanor charge that he entered and remained in a restricted area.

Reffitt’s wife, Nicole, spoke briefly to reporters as she and her daughter, Peyton, left the courthouse. “If you are going to be convicted for your First Amendment rights, all Americans should beware. This fight has only just begun,” said Nicole Reffitt.

Reffitt faced a total of five counts: obstruction of official process, unlawful presence on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm, transporting firearms during a civil disturbance , interference with law enforcement during civil unrest, and obstruction of justice.

He will be sentenced on June 8. He could be sentenced to 20 years in prison on the charge alone, but he is likely to spend much less time behind bars. Other rioters pleaded guilty; the longest sentence to date is five years and three months for Robert Palmer, a Florida man who pleaded guilty to attacking police officers at the Capitol.

The riot resulted in the death of five people, including a policeman. More than 100 officers were injured. Rioters caused more than $1 million in damage to the Capitol.

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

Welch said Reffitt worked as a rig manager and consultant in the oil industry before COVID-19 restrictions effectively shut down his business.

Jurors saw video that captured the confrontation between a few Capitol police officers and a crowd of people, including Reffitt, who approached them from the west side of the Capitol.

Reffitt was armed with a Smith & Wesson pistol in a waist holster, wearing zippered handcuffs and wearing a body armor and helmet fitted with a video camera when he walked up to police, according to prosecutors. He retreated after an officer sprayed him with pepper spray in the face, but he waved at other rioters who eventually entered the building, prosecutors said.

Before the crowd moved forward, Reffitt used a megaphone to shout for the police to move aside and to urge the crowd to move forward and past the officers. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said Reffitt played a leading role that day.

During testimony last Friday, prosecutors zoomed in on a video image of Reffitt on Capitol Hill. FBI Special Agent Laird Hightower said the image shows “a silver metallic linear object” in a holster protruding from under Reffitt’s jacket as he leaned forward.

Shauni Kerkhoff, who was one of the Capitol police who tried to push Reffitt away, said she threw pepper balls that didn’t stop him from moving forward. She testified that Reffitt appeared to be leading the crowd down the stairs toward the police.

Reffitt’s 19-year-old son, Jackson, testified last Thursday that his father threatened him and his then 16-year-old sister after he drove home from Washington. Reffitt told his children they would be traitors if they reported him to the authorities and said “traitors get shot,” Jackson Reffitt recalled.

He said the threat terrified him. Her younger sister, Peyton, was on the government’s list of possible witnesses, but did not testify.

Jackson Reffitt used a cell phone app to secretly record his father bragging about his role in the riot. The jurors heard excerpts from this family conversation.

Jackson Reffitt first contacted the FBI on Christmas Eve, less than two weeks before the riot, to report concerns about his father’s behavior and increasingly disturbing rhetoric. But the FBI did not respond until January 6, after the riot broke out.

Another key witness, Rocky Hardie, testified that he and Reffitt were members of the “Texas Three Percenters” militia. The Three Percenters militia movement refers to the myth that only 3% of Americans fought in the Revolutionary War against the British.

Hardie drove from Texas to Washington with Reffitt. He testified that they were both armed with holstered handguns when they attended then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally before the riot broke out. Reffitt also took an AR-15 rifle to Washington but left it locked in his car, Hardie said.

Hardie said Reffitt talked about getting lawmakers out of the Capitol and replacing them with people who would “follow the Constitution.” Hardie also said Reffitt gave him two pairs of zippered handcuffs in case they needed to restrain someone.

Reffitt was arrested less than a week after the riot. The FBI found a holstered handgun on a nightstand in the defendant’s bedroom when they searched his home near Dallas.

More than 750 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. More than 220 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. and more than 110 of them have been convicted. About 90 more have trial dates.

Elna M. Lemons