Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Federal prosecutors get first guilty verdict in U.S. Capitol riot

 A Texas man was convicted of storming the U.S. Capitol with a holstered handgun, a milestone victory for federal prosecutors in the first trial among hundreds of cases arising from last year’s riot, reported The Associated Press.

A jury also convicted Guy Wesley Reffitt of obstructing Congress’ joint session to certify the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6, 2021, of interfering with police officers who were guarding the Capitol and of threatening his two teenage children if they reported him to law enforcement after the attack. Jurors deliberated about three hours and convicted him on all counts.

The verdict could be a bellwether for many other Capitol riot cases. It could give Justice Department prosecutors more leverage in plea negotiations and discourage other defendants from gambling on trials of their own.

Gregg Sofer, a former federal prosecutor who served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas from October 2020 to February 2021, said before Reffitt’s trial started that it would be “the canary in the coal mine.”

“If you’re a defendant awaiting trial at this point, the canary just died,” said Sofer, now a partner at the law firm Husch Blackwell. “I do think it is likely to affect people’s perceptions about the likelihood of their success.”

Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, didn’t testify at his trial, which started last Wednesday. He showed little visible reaction to the verdict, but his face was covered by a mask.

Outside court, his wife Nicole said the verdict was “against all American people. If you’re going to be convicted on your First Amendment rights, all Americans should be wary. This fight has just begun.”

She said her husband was being used as an example by the government. “You are all in danger,” she said.

In a statement after the verdict, U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves in Washington thanked the jury “for upholding the rule of law and for its diligent service in this case.”

During the trial’s closing arguments on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower told jurors that Reffitt drove to Washington, D.C., intending to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Reffitt proudly “lit the fire” that allowed others in a mob to overwhelm Capitol police officers near the Senate doors, the prosecutor said.

Reffitt was not accused of entering the Capitol building. Defense attorney William Welch said there is no evidence that Reffitt damaged property, used force or physically harmed anybody.

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