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No new trial for Guy Reffitt: Judge upholds verdict in first Capitol riot case to go before jury

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich upheld a jury's guilty verdict in the first Capitol riot case to go to trial.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge Wednesday rejected a request to overturn the conviction of the first Capitol riot defendant to go to trial, saying the government provided “ample evidence” to back up the felony charges.

Guy Reffitt, a Three Percenter militia member from Wylie, Texas, was convicted in March on five felony counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding and entering a restricted grounds with a firearm. Jurors deliberated for less than four hours before returning with a guilty verdict on all counts.

Reffitt’s attorney, William Welch, then filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich to throw out the jury’s verdict and acquit his client or, if she wouldn’t do that, allow him to have another trial. Welch argued the evidence against Reffitt was insufficient and cited a decision from U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols finding the obstruction statute under which Reffitt and other riot defendants were charged required him to have taken “some action with respect to a document, record, or other object.”

The Justice Department has asked Nichols to reconsider that reading of the statute and, on Tuesday, Nichols himself said in a hearing he was “very seriously contemplating” their request. No other judge on the D.C. District Court has agreed with Nichols’ interpretation of the statute. In her order Wednesday, Friedrich explicitly rejected it.

“To be sure, it is somewhat odd that § 1512(c)(2) is the only provision in the section that lacks ‘a narrow focus,’” Friedrich wrote, referring to Nichols’ order dismissing the obstruction count against another defendant, Garrett Miller. “But it would also be unnatural to read a phrase as expansive as ‘otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding’ as restricted just to acts affecting records, documents, or objects—especially because a whole host of such acts are already proscribed in § 1512(c)(1).”

Both Friedrich and Nichols were appointed to the D.C. District Court by former President Donald Trump – Friedrich in 2017, and Nichols in 2019.

In her order, Friedrich also rejected Reffitt’s argument that the evidence against him was insufficient. Rather, she wrote, it was his arguments for a new trial that were lacking.

“Reffitt makes little attempt to show that ‘the interest of justice’ requires a new trial… reiterating only that the evidence is insufficient to sustain guilty verdicts, except on count 3(a),” she wrote. “In fact, the evidence amply supports his conviction on all counts.”

Since Reffitt’s conviction, three other Capitol riot defendants have gone to trial before a jury. All have been convicted on all counts – most recently former NYPD officer Thomas Webster, who was convicted of assaulting DC Police Officer Noah Rathbun on Jan. 6.

Friedrich’s decision left few remedies for Reffitt at the district court level. It was not immediately clear whether he intended to appeal her ruling to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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