Many Capitol riot cases could hinge on 1st trial’s outcome


Isurrectionists storm the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. The primary trial for one of many a whole lot of Capitol riot prosecutions begins this week, with jury choice scheduled to start on Monday. (John Minchillo, Related Press)

Estimated learn time: 6-7 minutes

WASHINGTON — The Justice Division launched one of many largest and most complicated felony investigations in its historical past after a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol over a yr in the past. Now it is time for a jury to listen to a number of the authorities’s proof in regards to the unparalleled assault on American democracy.

The primary trial for one of many a whole lot of Capitol riot prosecutions begins this week, with jury choice scheduled to start on Monday for the case in opposition to Man Wesley Reffitt. The Texas man is charged with bringing a gun onto Capitol grounds, interfering with cops guarding the constructing, and threatening his teenage youngsters in the event that they reported him to authorities.

Reffitt’s trial could possibly 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 severe expenses. An acquittal could lead others to attend for their very own day in courtroom.

Reffitt “actually is the canary within 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 will actually be fascinating to see how sturdy a case the federal government has and whether or not or not they’re counting on proof that, when pushed and examined, stands up. It’ll have a big impact going ahead,” added Sofer, now a associate at a legislation agency.

Reffitt is a member of a militia-style group referred to as the “Texas Three Percenters,” in accordance with prosecutors. The Three Percenters militia motion refers back to the fable that solely 3% of People fought within the Revolutionary Struggle in opposition to the British.


It will actually be fascinating to see how sturdy a case the federal government has and whether or not or not they’re counting on proof that, when pushed and examined, stands up. It’ll have a big impact going ahead.

–Gregg Sofer, former federal prosecutor


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 geared up with a video digicam when he and others charged at cops on the west aspect of the Capitol, in accordance with prosecutors.

“This motion prompted the police line guarding the constructing to retreat nearer to the constructing itself; quickly after this, legislation enforcement was overwhelmed, and rioters flooded the constructing,” prosecutors wrote in a courtroom submitting.

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

Prosecutors imagine 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 house 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 after which come again for weapons scorching” and despatched messages about assembly at a “rendezvous level,” in accordance with prosecutors.

“These messages, together with the weapons that Reffitt carried and the gear he wore, clarify that the defendant didn’t come to D.C. with the intention to interact in peaceable exercise,” prosecutors wrote.

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

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

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

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 may profit defendants from time to time as a result of it is higher than the choice if the choice is a conviction following a trial,” Danilewitz added.

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

“It can even be fascinating to see what the protection technique is within the face of this very compelling proof,” Danilewitz mentioned.

Protection legal professional William Welch has mentioned there isn’t a proof that Reffitt broken property, used power or bodily harmed anyone. In a Could 2021 courtroom submitting, Welch mentioned not one of the movies or images exhibits a gun in Reffitt’s possession on the Capitol.

“In truth, neither of the cops interviewed by the federal government mentioned something a couple of firearm,” he wrote.

Reffitt has been jailed since his arrest in Texas lower than every 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 legislation 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 house from Washington. Reffett advised his youngsters to “select a aspect or die” and mentioned they’d be traitors in the event that they reported him to legislation enforcement, prosecutors mentioned.

“He predicted future political violence in statements each to his household and to fellow militia members, bragged to fellow militia members about his involvement within the riot, recruited different rioters into the militia, and ordered bear spray and riot shields to his house to arrange for additional violence,” prosecutors wrote.

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

“We had hundreds of weapons and fired no rounds but confirmed numbers. The following time we is not going to be so cordial,” he wrote, in accordance with prosecutors.

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

Prosecutors count on to name a couple of dozen witnesses, together with three Capitol cops who interacted with Reffitt and an officer who was in control 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 in regards to the riot inside his house after returning house.

“We made a degree. That was a historic day,” Refffitt mentioned throughout one of many recorded conversations, in accordance with prosecutors. “And guess what? I am not accomplished but. I acquired much more to do. That is the start.”

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

“Through the drive (to Washington), Reffitt talked about ‘dragging these folks out of the Capitol by their ankles’ and putting in a brand new authorities,” prosecutors wrote.

A courtroom 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 guide within the petroleum trade earlier than COVID-19 restrictions successfully shut down his enterprise.

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