Growing Number of Jan. 6 Defendants Pushing for Trials Outside Washington, Alleging Jury and Judge Bias

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
March 2, 2022 Updated: March 3, 2022

A growing number of people charged in relation to the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol breach are asking judges to move their trials from Washington, asserting that the jury pool in the nation’s capital is predisposed to rule against them and has been subject to inaccurate media reports.

Some defendants also say that the judges presiding over their cases are biased.

“Mr. Tanios is extremely concerned that he will not receive a fair trial in DC,” Elizabeth Gross, an attorney representing George Tanios, wrote in a recent motion asking for a change of venue.

Tanios was accused of contributing to the death of Brian Sicknick, a U.S. Capitol Police officer who media outlets such as The New York Times and Department of Justice officials have falsely claimed died from injuries inflicted by Jan. 6 protesters. The Washington medical examiner’s office stated in April 2021 that Sicknick died of natural causes a day after the incident.

“It will be impossible, in our view, for Mr. Tanios to select qualified, impartial, and truly unbiased jurors given (1) the incredible volume of remarkably negative pretrial publicity in DC about January 6; (2) the continuous stream of negative productions by DC media outlets about Mr. Tanios; and (3) the generalized trauma experienced by DC residents during and after the protest and violent attack on the U.S. Capitol,” the motion reads.

“In many critical ways, DC and its residents are the alleged victims in every January 6 case because DC hosts the U.S. Capitol Building, many DC residents work for the Government, and DC is the epicenter of our Democracy, where the majority of residents are connected in some meaningful way to politics and political events. This trial must be held elsewhere.”

Another motion, this one from Deborah Sandoval, states that the overwhelming number of Democrat voters in Washington means it would be “virtually impossible” to come up with an unbiased jury.

Denied

Some defendants moved in 2021 for a change of venue, but those attempts were either denied or became null because they agreed to enter guilty pleas.

David Fischer, an attorney for Thomas Caldwell, in July 2021 told the court that initial statements in the case from prosecutors contained misleading, inaccurate, and false information—prosecutors have since admitted to falsely stating that then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was at the Capitol when it was breached—and said jurors would be predisposed against his client because of the statements and dubious media coverage.

The motion, which a number of co-defendants joined, was shot down by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee.

“You haven’t put any evidence in front of me, not any kind of surveys, not any kind of polling data, nothing that would suggest that a jury pool in this city is predisposed to not fairly judging your client or any of these other defendants’ conduct,” Mehta told Fischer, who responded that acquiring such data would require tens of thousands of dollars.

Jonathon Moseley, an attorney for defendants including Oath Keepers member Kelly Meggs, took notice of Mehta’s rationale. The attorney and some peers are working to complete four public opinion surveys before they file motions to change venues.

“A lot of the delay has been about coming up with the money and the cooperation plans for public opinion surveys to document the need for moving the trial,” Moseley told The Epoch Times from the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he was looking to drum up volunteers and donations for the effort.

The motions may include opinions offered by various judges from the bench as they sentenced Jan. 6 defendants.

“Normally, when the trial is over, and the judge is sentencing somebody, they may … say here are the good things, here are the bad things, and talk about how horrible the crime was, but they don’t normally do that when other people in the same situation are still waiting for trial,” Moseley said.

“So here you’ve got a few people that have been sentenced. And the judges are condemning them when hundreds of people are still waiting for trial from the same incident. So you’ve got judges that have basically pre-judged all of these defendants in very public ways.”

Reffitt Trial

Guy Wesley Reffitt is the first Jan. 6 defendant to go on trial. Jury selection began on Feb. 28.

Reffitt was another defendant who sought a change of venue, but was rejected. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, sided with the government, which said the burden of proof needed to shift a trial location wasn’t met.

“The defendant’s crimes were primarily committed against the seat of the government, in Washington, D.C. He deserves to stand trial for those crimes in the place he committed them,” prosecutors said in a filing.

They also said the news articles that would have allegedly influenced potential jurors were primarily from national media outlets, and few mentioned Reffitt by name.

Many potential jurors have said that they’re familiar with some aspects of the breach, and some outright said they likely couldn’t or wouldn’t be impartial. Those up for a slot on the jury included a woman whose daughter works for the Department of Homeland Security and a man who once gave tours of the U.S. Capitol, Yahoo reported.

Friedrich said that “no one can come into this courtroom with a completely blank slate about Jan. 6, because it was reported so widely, but we don’t want jurors who have formed an opinion of what happened that day.” She also said jurors didn’t need to “guarantee impartiality,” but that their views shouldn’t be so strong “that he or she cannot impartially judge guilt or innocence.”

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.