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Surprise guilty plea upends Capitol riot hearing in bid to preempt new indictment

Alleged militia member Lucas Denney told a judge he wanted to plead guilty to the single-count indictment against him — before the DOJ could bring more charges.

WASHINGTON — A Capitol riot defendant upended his court hearing Monday with a surprise offer to plead guilty to the single-count indictment against him – just as the judge was prepared to dismiss it.

The Justice Department admitted in a filing Monday it had violated the Speedy Trial Act by failing to file an indictment or criminal information against Lucas Denney, of Texas, within 30 days of his arrest. Denney was taken into custody on Dec. 13, 2021, and a federal grand jury didn’t indict him until 85 days later on March 7.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui admonished the DOJ last week about letting Denney languish behind bars without a hearing.

“There’s no excuse to treat a person like that,” Faruqui told assistant U.S. attorney Jennifer Rozzoni.

Rozzoni appeared before U.S. District Judge Rudolph Moss on Monday afternoon prepared to argue he should dismiss the indictment without prejudice – a ruling which would allow the government to re-charge Denney at a later date.

But Denney’s attorneys, John Pierce and William Shipley, had other plans.

“Mr. Denney is here, prepared to admit his conduct and plead guilty to the only pending charge,” Shipley said.

Denney and a co-defendant, Donald Hazard, were charged via complaint in December with multiple felony charges alleging they attempted to recruit members to their militia, the “Patriot Boys of North Texas,” and then assaulted police on Jan. 6 with multiple objects, including a metal pole. Rozzoni wrote in a filing Monday morning that, other than the seditious conspiracy charges against 11 Oath Keepers, “these are the most serious offenses charges in relation to the attack on the Capitol.”

But last week, after realizing the DOJ had long blown past the Speedy Trial Act, prosecutors went to a federal grand jury and quickly received a single-count indictment against Denney for assaulting police with a dangerous weapon – just one of the seven felony counts he had initially faced.

Shipley told Moss the DOJ had gotten the hasty indictment in a bad faith attempt to stave off his motion to dismiss the initial complaint, and that he was worried any further delays would allow them to go to the grand jury again to “escape from the trap they’ve set themselves.”

Instead, he said, Denney should be allowed to plead guilty Monday to the single charge the government had indicted him on.

Moss put a pin in that until at least Thursday, however, saying he wasn’t sure what the law required in the unusual situation Denney found himself in. He also said, while he realized Shipley and Denney were trying to preempt a superseding indictment with more felony counts, a quick look at the sentencing guideline for Denney suggested he could be facing 47-56 months in prison “in a rush to cut the government off.”

In the interim, Moss told Rozzoni and Shipley to communicate about the details of a guilty plea and to come back on Thursday with their estimates of what Denney’s recommended sentence would be.

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