1st trial for Capitol rioter ends with conviction by jurors

This artist sketch depicts Guy Wesley Reffitt, bottom right, joined by his lawyer William Welch, third from right, listening as prosecutor Risa Berkower, speaks at the podium at center, as a video depicts a handgun on the waist of Reffitt, at left, for members of the jury and audience in Federal Court, in Washington, Monday, March 7, 2022. Reffitt, a Texas man charged with storming the U.S. Capitol with a holstered handgun on his waist, is the first Jan. 6 defendant to go on trial. Also pictured from left, are prosecutors Tom Ryan, Jeff Nestler, and Amanda Rohde. Man at top right is unidentified, (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

A Texas man was convicted on Tuesday of storming the U.S. Capitol with a holstered handgun, a milestone victory for federal prosecutors in the first trial among hundreds of cases arising from last year’s riot.

A jury also convicted Guy Wesley Reffitt of interfering with police officers who were guarding the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and of obstructing justice for threatening his two teenage children if they reported him to law enforcement after the attack. Jurors deliberated about three hours and convicted him on all counts.

The verdict could be a bellwether for many other Capitol riot cases. It could give Justice Department prosecutors more leverage in plea negotiations and discourage other defendants from gambling on trials of their own.

Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, didn’t testify at his trial, which started last Wednesday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

A federal jury began deliberating on Tuesday in the case against a Texas man whose trial is the first for the hundreds of people charged in the riot at the U.S. Capitol last year.

Guy Wesley Reffitt is charged with storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun strapped to his waist and interfering with police officers guarding the Senate doors. He also is charged with threatening his teenage children if they reported him to law enforcement after the attack on Jan. 6, 2021.

Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, didn’t testify at his trial, which started last Wednesday. His attorney, William Welch, didn’t present any witnesses after prosecutors rested their case on Monday.

During the trial’s closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower told jurors that Reffitt drove to Washington, D.C., intending to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Reffitt proudly “lit the fire” that allowed others in the mob to overwhelm Capitol police officers, the prosecutor said.

Welch denied that Reffitt had a gun at the Capitol and said there is no evidence that he engaged in any violence or destructive behavior. The defense lawyer urged jurors to acquit Reffitt of all charges but one: He said they should convict him of a misdemeanor charge that he entered and remained in a restricted area.

Reffitt faces five felony counts — 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 obstructing justice. The obstructing justice charge relates to his alleged threats against his children.

Reffitt was arrested less than a week after the riot. He has been jailed in Washington for months.

Reffitt is a member of the “Texas Three Percenters” and bragged about his involvement in the riot to other members of the group, according to prosecutors. The Three Percenters militia movement refers to the myth that only 3% of American colonists fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.

Rocky Hardie, a self-described Texas Three Percenters member, testified that he and Reffitt both had holstered handguns strapped to their bodies when they attended then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally just before the riot erupted.

Reffitt had the holstered gun under his jacket, was carrying zip-tie handcuffs and was wearing body armor when he and other rioters advanced on police officers on the west side of the Capitol, according to prosecutors. Reffitt is not accused of entering the building. He retreated after an officer pepper-sprayed him in the face, prosecutors said.

Reffitt’s 19-year-old son, Jackson, testified that his father told him and his sister, then 16, that they would be traitors if they reported him to authorities and said “traitors get shot.”

More than 750 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. A verdict in his case could have an enormous impact on many others. A conviction could give prosecutors more leverage over defendants facing the most serious charges. An acquittal could embolden other defendants to seek more favorable plea deals or gamble on trials of their own.

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