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Schooling and suspicions form barrier to sit on jury for rioters accused of sedition

Another four Oath Keepers who joined the Jan. 6 insurrection will face opening arguments Monday.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Four days of jury selection ended Friday with a panel of 12 jurors and four alternates to hear whether four members of the far-right Oath Keepers organization plotted to overthrow the U.S. government so Donald Trump could stay in power.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta noted that most, if not all, of the people scouted from the jury pool followed court instructions to avoid news coverage related to the riot that erupted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Frankly, I was surprised,” Mehta said, “because we were worried about that.”

Earlier in the week, the defense had objected, albeit unsuccessfully, to a potential juror who saw a YouTube advertisement regarding the recent conviction of Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers was charged with their clients on the same indictment. Rhodes and four others were all found guilty of various charges on Nov. 29, though most were acquitted on the top charge of seditious conspiracy.

William Shipley, who represents defendant Roberto Minuta in the upcoming trial, told Mehta on Friday that the defense is fighting the issue of undisclosed jury bias. Washington is a Democrat-majority city, and Shipley described how he went back-and-forth with a potential juror over the man's understanding of when and why the Oath Keepers organization was formed.

Shipley asked if the juror's news consumption led him to believe that the Oath Keepers were formed around the time of the 2020 election to protest unfavorable results. The man did not deny the hypothetical group mission but said he believed the group was established a little before the election.

If that specific question had not been asked, Shipley said, then the prospective jurist would not have responded with his “incendiary comment,” as Shipley called it.

But Judge Mehta said that was a rare exception, and that most of the jurists struck from the pool had revealed their potential biases early on. Mehta also noted that he is not aware of any D.C. Circuit decision that assumes an inherent bias in a jury pool based on the political makeup of the area in which they reside.

Defense attorneys also took issue this week with a prospective jurist who said one of his college professors was Representative Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who serves on the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. And a woman who described Jan. 6 as a “remarkably violent” day on Wednesday received pushback as well.

U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said the government plans to spend no more than an hour delivering opening statements on Monday. Though the defense plans to spend about four hours on openings, the government expects to call its first witness that afternoon. The jury has 10 women and six men.

Minuta will stand trial alongside Edward VallejoDavid Moerschel and Joseph Hackett. Each were part of a group of 11, including Rhodes, charged in January. Five were found guilty last month, and the remaining two defendants — Joshua James and Brian Ulrich — avoided trial by pleading guilty to seditious conspiracy in the fall.

Their indictment describes the Oath Keepers as a loosely organized antigovernment militia that planned to “stop the lawful transfer of presidential power by Jan. 20, 2021.” Prosecutors say the group communicated about the plan through encrypted chats, stocked up on weapons and ultimately traveled across the country for the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.

The top charge of seditious conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Elsewhere in the Washington courthouse on Friday, Nicholas Ochs, the founder of the Hawaii chapter of the right-wing Proud Boys militia group, and fellow Capitol rioter Nicholas DeCarlo were each sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding. Ochs and DeCarlo admitted that they stormed the Capitol together on Jan. 6, that they took a pair of flex-cuffs from a U.S. Capitol police officer’s bag, and that DeCarlo wrote “Murder the Media” on the Chestnut-Gibson Memorial Door to the Capitol.

The House committee investigating the Capitol attack is expected in less than two weeks to release its final report on the insurrection following a series of public hearings this year.

To date, the government has nearly 900 people charged by the government in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Dec. 6, about 355 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, and about 115 have pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 185 people have been sentenced to prison.

Five members of the Proud Boys will go to trial for seditious conspiracy on Dec. 19. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, will preside over the third seditious conspiracy trial related to the riot.

An estimated 140 police officers were assaulted on Jan. 6 at the Capitol, including about 80 from the U.S. Capitol Police force and about 60 from the Metropolitan Police Department.

The FBI is still looking for more than 250 people who assaulted police officers during the insurrection.

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