Jury Selection Begins for First Defendant’s Trial After Jan. 6 Riot
WASHINGTON — Jury selection got off to a rough start Monday in Washington, D.C., for the trial of accused Jan. 6, 2021, insurrectionist Guy Reffitt as attorneys ran into difficulties finding objective jurors.
All the prospective jurors knew about the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol to block Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results.
Several of them expressed strong opinions that led a federal judge to disqualify them.
The first group of 47 prospective jurors to undergo questioning by attorneys consisted of 28 women and 19 men. Thirty-one of them were white, 13 black and three of Asian origin.
Before the questioning, Judge Dabney Friedrich told prospective jurors she knew the case was unique because so many of them already understood what former President Donald Trump’s supporters did at the Capitol.
The case also is unique for the way it serves as a test for hundreds of other defendants charged with crimes.
Reffitt is the first among 786 people charged in the insurrection to stand trial. So far, 213 have pleaded guilty in agreements with prosecutors for reduced sentences. Hundreds more await trial.
Prosecutors say Reffitt, the 49-year-old Texas oil rig worker, is a member of the far right anti-government Three Percenters movement. They say he participated in the insurrection while planning to drag members of Congress out of the Capitol “by their ankles.”
He faces five felony charges, including obstructing an official proceeding and carrying a firearm onto the Capitol grounds. He pleaded not guilty to all of them.
Reffitt’s attorneys tried unsuccessfully to get the charges dismissed in pretrial proceedings by arguing the laws he is charged with breaking are vague and violate his First Amendment right of free speech.
One of the prospective jurors said he saw a story on television Monday morning about the Reffitt trial. Reffitt’s attorney asked that he be removed from the case. Friedrich granted the motion.
Another prospective juror was removed after saying she would have a hard time believing defendants who participated in the riot were innocent.
A third was removed after he described the insurrection as “an attack on my home.”
Jury selection lasted into the afternoon before a dozen jurors who showed no partiality were chosen. For many trials, the process might take an hour.
One of the jurors chosen was a woman in her 70s who said she lived on Capitol Hill but did not feel personally threatened while Trump supporters forced their way into the Capitol. She said she watches the news and prefers to stay informed about events.
Witnesses against Reffitt are scheduled to include his teenage son and daughter. The son says he contacted the FBI after hearing his father’s increasingly threatening rhetoric toward federal lawmakers.
A summary of witness testimony prosecutors filed with the court describes the daughter’s statements by saying, “The government expects her to generally testify that she was with her brother and father in the family’s kitchen when she heard her father tell them that if they turned him in to law enforcement, they would be traitors, and that traitors get shot. She will also testify that she believed the defendant was intending to intimidate her and her brother to not contact the police or FBI about the defendant’s involvement in the riot at the Capitol.”
Capitol Police officers have said they used pepper spray on Reffitt to stop him.
Prosecutors also are presenting surveillance video and text messages as evidence against Reffitt.
Before the trial, he wrote a letter to the judge denying the insurrectionists committed any crimes.
“When all the lies and hyperbole have been peeled away, the world will know the truth. There was no insurrection, no conspiracy, no sinister plan and no reason to think otherwise,” the letter said.
Tom can be reached at [email protected]
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