Final details worked out on Feb. 24 will allow jury selection to begin on Feb. 28 in the first criminal trial of the more than 750 people charged with crimes at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich will call 80 potential jurors in the District of Columbia trial of Guy Wesley Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas.
Reffitt is the first Jan. 6 defendant to go to trial, although many other defendants have accepted plea deals with reduced charges. Reffitt has been held in federal detention since his arrest on Jan. 16, 2021.
Testimony could begin late on March 1 or early on March 2 once the 12 jurors and four alternates are seated. There will be limited public seating in the courtroom, with spectators asked to stay 6 feet apart due to the court’s COVID-19 regulations.
Reffitt is charged with entering and remaining in a restricted building while armed with a dangerous weapon, civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, obstruction of U.S. Capitol Police officers, and obstruction of justice for allegedly threatening to shoot his children if they turned him in to the FBI.
Prosecutors allege Reffitt carried a semiautomatic Smith & Wesson pistol onto Capitol grounds during the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
A major issue in the trial will be whether prosecutors can prove Reffitt had the weapon on him. Photos to be submitted in evidence show a holster under Reffitt’s jacket. Prosecutors also allege he charged a police line and had to be repelled with pepper spray, a pepper ball, and nonlethal projectiles.
When Reffitt returned to his Texas home from Washington on Jan. 8, charging documents allege, he told his two children not to turn him in to the government or they would be traitors, “and you know what happens to traitors, traitors get shot.” He also said he would have to “erase everything” because the FBI was watching him, court papers allege.
The trial is notable because Reffitt is among dozens of Jan. 6 defendants who have been held in jail for more than a year as they have awaited their day in court. Reffitt made repeated motions to be released on bond, but those were denied. Some defendants and attorneys in other cases have alleged that Jan. 6 inmates have been beaten, refused food, not allowed to speak with their attorneys, and stuck in solitary confinement for months at a time.
Reffitt is the alleged author of a handwritten letter from the “1/6ers” sent to a media outlet in May 2021, lamenting the country’s loss of liberties. The letter said Jan. 6 was about letting the nation’s leaders know “they have transgressed much too far.”
“When all the lies and hyperbole have been peeled away, the world will know the truth,” the letter said. “There was no insurrection, no conspiracy, no sinister plan and no reason to think otherwise.
“While our lawyers do our bidding and judges do their duties, we remain resolute, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem, all in unison, loud and proud most every day,” the letter said. “All because we are us, we are you, we are all Americans, and in here, we have no labels.”
Semiautomatic Pistol or Just a Holster?
Prosecutors and Reffitt’s defense attorney have exchanged motions in the case for months, arguing about witness testimony, the questions to be asked of potential jurors, and the instructions the jury will receive before they deliberate the case.
One contentious issue is whether Reffitt was armed with a handgun while at the Capitol. During a search of Reffitt’s home in mid-January 2021, the FBI found a handgun and a rifle they allege Reffitt brought to Washington. They also found a Blackhawk Serpa CQC concealment holster, which he was allegedly wearing at the Capitol in videos obtained by the government.
Reffitt’s defense attorney, William L. Welch III, objected to a prosecutor’s proposal to have FBI Special Agent Laird Hightower testify as a lay witness, offering his personal opinions on the type of holster Reffitt was wearing in Jan. 6 videos.
Hightower, a former firearms trainer at the FBI, shouldn’t be allowed to offer a layman’s opinion on the holster because it’s based on his years of specialized training and experience at the FBI, Welch argued in court filings. Expert witnesses are subject to more scrutiny and a higher legal standard when testifying in federal court. Judge Friedrich ruled that Hightower will be allowed to offer lay testimony.
Welch also moved to have count two of the indictments dismissed. That charge alleges Reffitt did “corruptly obstruct, influence and impede an official proceeding,” the certification of the Electoral College vote for president that was delayed by more than six hours by the incident. Judge Friedrich took the motion under advisement.
Friedrich asked prosecutors to explain why the charging document and the U.S. attorney’s proposed jury instructions made reference to then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris being at the Capitol during the incident.
“The Court’s understanding is that the government has removed references to the vice president-elect in other indictments because the vice president-elect was not at the Capitol at the time,” Friedrich said in a Feb. 16 hearing. “Was the vice president-elect at the Capitol, and if not, why do the indictment and jury instructions reference the vice president-elect?”
The next day, U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Jason Jolly signed a declaration for the court stating that Harris left the Capitol late in the morning on Jan. 6, hours before the first incursions of the building. References to Harris have since been removed from jury instructions. There is expected to be testimony at trial that Vice President Mike Pence’s motorcade was seen leaving the Capitol before 2 p.m.
Prosecutors plan to call 13 witnesses, including four current and former U.S. Capitol Police officials, three FBI agents, an FBI photographer, a Secret Service agent, the former counsel to the secretary of the U.S. Senate, Reffitt’s two children, and an informant from the Texas Three Percenters group who traveled with Reffitt to Washington from Texas. Reffitt was also a member of the Three Percenters, which the FBI calls an extremist group. That witness, described only as “R.H.” in court filings, was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.
Exhibits in the case will include various videos from the U.S. Capitol, 50 photographs from the search of Reffitt’s home, the firearms seized from the home, the Blackhawk holster, video of a Texas Three Percenters Zoom meeting, messages from the encrypted chat app Telegram taken from Reffitt’s iPhone, and data from the Life360 geolocation app on Reffitt’s phone.
One of the photos in the original January 2021 charging document shows Reffitt on the stairs leading to the Lower West Terrace at the Capitol. The photo also shows Derrick Vargo, 32, who says he was pushed from the landing ledge by a police officer just seconds later. Vargo recently disclosed his identity as the victim of the push and fall, which caused injuries that required surgeries to repair.
Judge Friedrich issued an order on Feb. 24 compelling officials at the District of Columbia Central Detention Facility to provide Reffitt a haircut. Welch said jail officials have not responded to his repeated requests that his client receive a haircut. Under federal rules, defendants held in pretrial detention have a right to a haircut in preparation for trial.
Jan. 6 Arrests Top 750
More than 750 people arrested by the FBI have faced charges related to alleged actions at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
On Feb. 23, the FBI arrested Joshua Lee Hernandez, 28, of Memphis, Tennessee, on an indictment charging him with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers, civil disorder, engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds, and related offenses. Hernandez was identified as No. 27 on the FBI’s Jan. 6 most-wanted list.
The FBI also arrested a 63-year-old Michigan militia leader on charges of assaulting, resisting, or impeding police using a dangerous weapon or inflicting bodily injury, civil disorder, engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds, and other charges.
Prosecutors allege that Matthew Thomas Krol of Linden, Michigan, attacked a Metropolitan Police Department officer, stole his police baton, and used it to assault other officers. He also allegedly threw a water bottle at police officers, according to a criminal complaint.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Krol is the “self-professed executive officer of the Genesee County Volunteer Militia.” The FBI listed Krol as No. 291 on its Jan. 6 most-wanted list.