First person to go on trial for Jan 6 riot at US Capitol found guilty

Supporters of former US President Donald Trump protest outside the US Capitol in Washington, on Jan 6, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The first person to go on trial over charges stemming from the Jan 6 insurrection was found guilty of obstruction of Congress and other counts, a crucial victory for the United States Justice Department as it continues to prosecute hundreds of other rioters.

Guy Reffitt, a Texas member of the Three Percenters militia group who was turned in to law enforcement by his teenage son, was convicted Tuesday (March 8) of all five counts brought against him in Washington following a six-day trial. The jury deliberated for less than four hours.

Reffitt, who owned a security business, is scheduled to be sentenced June 8 by US District Judge Dabney Friedrich.

The judge is an appointee of former President Donald Trump, whose false claim that the 2020 election was rigged against him helped trigger the riot.

The case is a bellwether for how juries may weigh evidence in other trials later this year, including two group trials of militia members accused of conspiracy and sedition - the most serious charges stemming from the insurrection.

More than 700 people have been charged, and about 200 have pleaded guilty.

Reffitt's lawyer, Mr William Welch, couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

After the jury was dismissed, Mr Welch suggested he'd appeal.

Former federal prosecutor Kimberly Wehle said the obstruction of Congress conviction is particularly important because there is a legal debate among other defendants about whether the certification of ballots qualifies as an official proceeding.

"Americans want to see accountability for the bigger picture around interfering with the peaceful transfer of presidential power," she said.

"Our democracy may depend on it."

In addition to obstruction of Congress and carrying a loaded firearm on federal grounds, Reffitt was also found guilty of obstructing justice by threatening his son and daughter to keep quiet about his participation in the riot.

His son, Mr Jackson Reffitt, was the government's star witness during the trial.

The trial offered the first look at how federal prosecutors have built their cases against people who laid siege to the Capitol, including extensive use of text messages, location data, travel information, and video and still images scraped from multiple sources such as rioters' own devices and CCTV cameras.

The jury also saw details from the raid on Reffitt's home, images of his firearms and a copy of a Zoom call between him and another militia member.

The jury also heard Mr Jackson Reffitt's secret audio recording of his father bragging about his actions on Jan 6.

Guy Reffitt's wife Nicole Reffitt (centre), with her daughters Sara (left) and Peyton, depart the federal court house in Washington, on March 8, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

According to prosecutors, Reffitt helped lead the first group of rioters up the steps of the Capitol terrace and encouraged them to forcefully confront police officers who were quickly overwhelmed and forced to retreat.

Multiple Capitol Police officers and federal agents also took the witness stand, including one who broke down in tears describing officers screaming over their radios for help.

In a closing statement to the jury Monday, Assistant US Attorney Risa Berkower on said the government had presented overwhelming evidence that Reffitt took a lead role in the riot and repeatedly bragged about it to anyone who would listen.

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