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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

First trial of Capitol rioter ends in conviction on all charges

A member of the Texas Three Percenters, Guy Reffitt charged at police, with a gun holstered on his waist, in last year's attempt to overthrow the U.S. government.

WASHINGTON (CN) — After just 2 1/2 hours of deliberations, a federal jury returned with a unanimous verdict Tuesday for the first Capitol rioter to go to trial, finding Guy Reffitt guilty on all five of the charges against him.

Reffitt, 49, of Bonham, Texas, did not show emotion and looked down at his hands after the verdict was read. He was convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding, being unlawfully present on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm, transporting firearms during a civil disorder, interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder and obstruction of justice.

A member of the Texas Three Percenters, Reffitt charged at police, with a gun holstered on his waist, in the attempt to overthrow the U.S. government on Jan. 6, 2021. After returning home from the riot, Reffitt also threatened his children against turning him into authorities.

The highly anticipated verdict is expected to encourage more pleas from other Capitol rioters who have held out on striking deals with prosecutors.

Reffitt’s wife, Nicole, meanwhile urged other Capitol riot defendants not to take plea deals, telling reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday that the government was “making a point” with her husband to “intimidate” other defendants.

“The verdict today is actually — is against all American people,” she said. “The fight has just begun.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower told jurors during closing arguments Monday that, although Reffitt did not physically breach the Capitol himself, he “lit the fire of the very first group of rioters” that did.

“Every mob needs leaders and this defendant was a leader that day,” Berkower said during a summation that lasted about 45 minutes. “Before the defendant got there, an angry crowd was growing, but no one had stepped up to the front.”

Berkower walked the jury through the evidence presented during the seven days of trial. She showed screenshots of messages Reffitt sent to family members and fellow militia members in the months leading up to the riot.

“I don’t care if Pelosi’s head is hitting every stair as I drag her by her ankles — she is coming out," Reffitt said in one message.

She recalled last week's testimony from Reffitt’s teenage son Jackson that, in the days before the riot, he had became so concerned about his father’s anti-government rhetoric that he reported him to the FBI. 

Berkower also pointed to admissions on the stand from Rocky Hardie, a former militia member who traveled with Reffitt from Texas to Washington. They decided to bring two handguns and two AR-15 rifles with them, he said, after agreeing that, “it’s better to be tried by a jury of 12, than carried by six.” 

“He was itching to be judged by you — the jury of 12 — and now we’re here,” Berkower said.

On the morning of Jan. 6, the pair reportedly reassembled their rifles and left them in the car. Hardie says he strapped his handgun in a shoulder holster and that he does not specifically recall seeing what Reffitt did with his gun, but that it would have been on his hip. 

Berkower showed photos and videos of Reffitt standing on a banister on the west terrace confronting three U.S. Capitol Police officers, all of whom testified that each time he took a step toward them, the crowd behind him did too. 

In one photo, Reffitt can be seen confronting police with a silver object in a holster on his waist — prosecutors insist it was his Smith & Wesson handgun.

Police shot projectiles at Reffitt, who was wearing a vest with heavy ceramic plates and a helmet with camera on top. He retreated after being hit with pepper spray, but Berkower said by then he had already “showed the mob the way” inside the Capitol building.

“Within minutes, the mob pushed the Capitol police backward, advanced up the stairs and broke [through] the windows,” she said. “Congress was derailed for hours and the defendant proudly celebrated. For days, he bragged openly until he realized he could face consequences for these crimes.”

As more people were being arrested in connection with the riot, some of whom were turned in by their own family members, she said Reffitt was “backed into a corner” and threatened his children against turning him in.

“He had squared off with the Capitol police — and now he squared off with his own children,” Berkower said, quoting Reffitt as telling his children “traitors get shot.”

The U.S. government says this photo shows Guy Reffitt rinsing his eyes out with water after being sprayed with a chemical irritant at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (DOJ photo via Courthouse News)

From the outset of Reffitt's trial, court-appointed defense attorney William Welch tried to downplay his client’s actions by painting Reffitt as someone who frequently rants, embellishes and exaggerates.

Welch also insisted that the government's case was largely based on "media and hype."

“The case has been a rush to judgment, most of it has been based on bragging and hype,” Welch told jurors during closing arguments.

Welch, who did not call any witnesses, told jurors that they should find his client guilty of being unlawfully present on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm — but none of the other four counts. He repeatedly noted throughout the trial that Reffitt did not physically enter the Capitol and that the incident only lasted a few minutes.

Reffitt’s attorney also argued that Hardie and the three Capitol police officers who testified did not confirm that they saw Reffitt’s gun in a holster on his waist during the riot.

He also sought to poke holes in testimony from Hardie, telling jurors he “seemed to have trouble remembering” details while on the witness stand.

Welch encouraged the jury as well to doubt Jackson’s claim about his father’s threat because his sister Peyton did not corroborate it. The government was expected to call Peyton to testify, but it scrapped the plan on Monday without explanation.

Reffitt has been incarcerated for more than a year after being arrested at his home in Wylie, Texas, on Jan. 19, 2021. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 8 by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee.

The two obstruction counts carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison. Being unlawfully on Capitol grounds while armed carries a maximum of 10 years, and the civil disorder counts each carry up to five years.

Reffitt is among more than 750 people who have been charged so far in connection with the Capitol attack. 

Follow @EmilyZantowNews
Categories / Criminal, Politics, Trials

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