As of now, more than 780 people have been charged with riot-related federal crimes based on the Jan. 6th Capitol riots. The Justice Department says over 245 of them have been charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement. More than 250 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, primarily to nonviolent misdemeanors. The Associated Press reports that jurors have heard and rejected many excuses rioters have given as to why they stormed the Capitol building.
An Ohio man who stole a coat rack from a Capitol office testified he was “following presidential orders” from Donald Trump. An off-duty police officer from Virginia claimed he only entered the Capitol to retrieve a fellow officer. A lawyer for a Texas man who confronted Capitol police accused prosecutors of rushing to judgment against somebody prone to exaggerating.
In many of these cases, video and self-incriminating evidence have given prosecutors an upper hand. “When I was a prosecutor trying cases, I would have loved to have had cases where the entire crime was on video. That doesn’t happen that often. But for jurors, it can be very powerful,” said Mary McCord, a Georgetown University Law Center professor, and former Justice Department official.
Thomas Webster, a 20-year veteran of the NYPD, will be the fourth Capitol riot defendant to get a jury trial. Webster claims that he acted in self-defense when he tackled a police officer trying to protect the Capitol from a mob, and First Amendment, free speech rights, protects him while he was screaming profanities at police. Webster faces six counts, including assaulting, resisting, or impeding an officer using a dangerous weapon. He’s the first Capitol riot defendant to be tried on an assault charge.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who will preside over Webster’s trial, described Webster’s conduct as “among the most indefensible and reprehensible” that the judge has seen among Jan. 6 cases, with “no real defense for it.” Webster’s attorney claims that the unnamed officer instigated the fight, but there’s a lack of video evidence to back that up.
Defense attorney James Monroe has claimed the unnamed officer gestured toward Webster, “inviting him to engage in a fight,” before reaching over a police barrier and punching Webster in his face. Mehta, however, said the video doesn’t show Webster getting punched in the face. The judge described Webster as an instigator.