Judges keeping Capitol riot trials in DC amid bias claims

Jul 5, 2022, 9:11 AM | Updated: Jul 6, 2022, 10:19 pm
FILE - Rioters face off with police at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. A growing n...

FILE - Rioters face off with police at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. A growing number of Capitol riot defendants are pushing to get their trials moved out of Washington. They claim they can't get a fair trial before unbiased jurors in the District of Columbia. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — For some of the Washington, D.C., residents who reported for jury duty last month, a pro-Trump mob’s assault on the U.S. Capitol felt like a personal attack.

Ahead of a trial for a Michigan man charged in the riot, one prospective juror said a police officer injured during the melee is a close friend. Another has friends who are congressional staffers or journalists who worked at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. A woman whose boyfriend lived near the Capitol recalled the terror she felt that day.

None of them served on the federal jury that swiftly convicted Anthony Robert Williams of storming the Capitol to obstruct Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential electoral victory.

But their personal connections to the riot highlight the challenge facing judges and attorneys in choosing impartial jurors in Washington to decide the hundreds of criminal cases stemming from the insurrection — especially as lawmakers hold high-profile public hearings on the insurrection less than a mile from the courthouse.

One of the most serious cases brought by the Justice Department in the Capitol attack has already been delayed after defense attorneys argued that their clients couldn’t get a fair trial in the midst of televised hearings by the House committee investigating the riot.

And a growing number of defendants are pushing to have their trials moved out of Washington, saying the outcome of the first trials proves that the odds are unfairly stacked against Jan. 6 defendants in the nation’s capital.

“D.C. is a city that, as a whole, feels that it has been the victim of a crime,” attorneys in two cases against members and associates of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group wrote in court papers seeking to have their trials moved to Virginia.

Prosecutors and judges see no evidence that Capitol rioters can’t get a fair trial in the district and believe the process of weeding out biased jurors is working. Judges presiding over Jan. 6 cases have consistently rejected requests to move trials, saying the capital has plenty of residents who can serve as fair jurors.

Prosecutors’ unblemished record so far in jury trials for Jan. 6 cases may speak to the strength of the evidence against the rioters, many of whom were captured on camera storming the Capitol and even bragged about their actions on social media.

It’s the latest in a string of long-shot legal gambits from defendants charged with crimes ranging from low-level misdemeanors to felony seditious conspiracy. Already more than 300 people across the U.S. have pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from the deadly riot. Collectively, 72 jurors have unanimously convicted six Jan. 6 defendants of all 35 counts in their indictments.

The federal court in Washington — where all the Jan. 6 cases are being heard — has seen plenty of politically charged trials, including those for former Mayor Marion Barry, Iran-Contra figure Oliver North and ex-Trump adviser Roger Stone, prosecutors note.

It’s exceptionally rare for judges to agree to move trials to a different location, even in the most high-profile cases. Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, for example, was tried in Boston over the objections of his attorneys even though a large number of people in the city were impacted by the attack, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

If Williams, the Jan. 6 defendant, had had his way, his trial would have been held in his native Michigan. His lawyers argued that inflammatory media coverage of the Capitol attack tainted a jury pool that already was predisposed to view him as somebody who victimized them.

Chief Judge Beryl Howell denied Williams’ request for a change of trial venue before jury selection started on June 27. One by one, the judge questioned 49 prospective jurors before seating 12 jurors and two alternates.

Howell disqualified several prospective jurors after questioning them about their personal connections or strong feelings about the events of Jan. 6. The judge asked a woman if her friendship with an officer whose ribs were broken during the riot would prevent her from being fair and impartial.

“My Christianity says, ‘No,’ but my feelings say, ‘Yes,'” the woman replied.

A man married to a USA Today reporter said Jan. 6 is a frequent topic of discussion among their friends who work at the Capitol.

“It would be very difficult to separate those,” he said before Howell excused him.

Howell also disqualified a woman who described herself as “very left biased” and a former New York City resident who said his “deep-rooted” dislike for former President Donald Trump predates his White House years.

The jurors picked for Williams’ trial included a NASA engineer, a moving company employee, a paralegal, a Wall Street regulator and a former State Department employee. None of them expressed any strong opinions about Jan. 6.

More than three dozen Capitol riot defendants have asked to have their trials moved out of Washington, including at least nine who filed their requests in June. None has succeeded so far.

In denying one such request, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said she agreed with prosecutors that there is no reason to believe that Washington’s entire population was so affected by the events of Jan. 6 that it can’t seat an impartial panel.

“In any U.S. jurisdiction, most prospective jurors will have heard about the events of January 6, and many will have various disqualifying biases,” she wrote.

Before a jury convicted retired New York City police officer Thomas Webster of assaulting a Capitol police officer during the riot, Webster’s lawyer said a survey of Washington residents found that 84% believe Jan. 6 defendants were trying to overturn the 2020 election results and keep Trump, a Republican, in power. The defense attorney, James Monroe, also noted that 92% of the votes cast by Washington residents went to Biden, a Democrat.

“Given the lopsided political makeup of the District, it is impossible to panel a jury that is not entirely comprised of people preordained to find Webster — a presumed Trump supporter — guilty,” Monroe wrote.

U.S District Judge Amit Mehta rejected the motion, saying the survey shows that nearly half of the Washington residents polled “would keep an open mind in the context of a specific case.”

Members of the Oath Keepers also failed to persuade Mehta to move their trial on seditious conspiracy charges from Washington to Alexandria, Virginia. Their lawyers noted that every Jan. 6 case tried before a jury in Washington has resulted in a conviction.

“That is true, but guilty verdicts are hardly unusual in federal criminal prosecutions,” Mehta wrote. “The mere existence of other guilty verdicts does not mean that the jury pool is inherently tainted.”

Williams’ trial was the first for a Jan. 6 case since a House committee began holding hearings on the Capitol riot, which drew millions of TV viewers.

Defense attorney John Kiyonaga, who represents Capitol riot defendant Robert Morss, said the House committee hearings have “poisoned” the jury pool in Washington. Kiyonaga has asked for his client’s trial to be moved to another district.

“The Committee has spoon fed to the entire nation a precisely choreographed rendition of January 6th defendants as ‘insurrectionists’ and murderous orchestrators of an attempted coup,” Kiyonaga wrote.

A trial was scheduled to start in August for several members of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group charged with seditious conspiracy and accused of plotting to forcibly oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power on Jan. 6.

But U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly agreed to move the trial to December after lawyers for some Proud Boys members argued they couldn’t pick an impartial jury in the midst of the House committee hearings.

Defense attorney Carmen Hernandez also cited “non-stop prejudicial publicity” from the House committee hearings as grounds for moving the Proud Boys trial to another district, but the judge hasn’t ruled on that yet.

___

Associated Press writer Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston contributed to this report.

___

For full coverage of the Jan. 6 hearings, go to https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A sign asks those getting vaccinated to keep 6 feet apart during the vaccination event, Wedn...
Associated Press

CDC drops quarantine, distancing recommendations for COVID

NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s top public health agency relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines Thursday, dropping the recommendation that Americans quarantine themselves if they come into close contact with an infected person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others. The […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

Justice Dept. weighs in on 2020 election robocall suit

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department has weighed in on a civil lawsuit against two conservative political operatives accused of using robocalls to dissuade Black voters from taking part in the 2020 election. The department said Friday that defense lawyers for the two men were misinterpreting the Voting Rights Act, although the department […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

Man charged in death of co-worker at Michigan GM plant

ORION TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A 48-year-old man was charged with open murder Friday in connection with a fatal assault at the General Motors assembly plant in Orion Township, a sheriff said. A magistrate authorized a warrant charging the suspect with a crime that could result in a life sentence in prison if convicted, Oakland […]
21 hours ago
People walk in the rain in front of a station, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Shizuoka, west of Tokyo....
Associated Press

Tropical Storm Meari heads to Japan, packed with winds, rain

TOKYO (AP) — Tropical Storm Meari unleashed heavy rains on southwestern Japan as it headed northward Saturday toward the capital, Tokyo, according to Japanese weather officials. The Japan Meteorological Agency warned Meari was on course to make landfall by noon, bringing sudden heavy rains and blasting winds, possibly setting off mudslides and flooding. Shizuoka Prefecture, […]
21 hours ago
This image taken from video provided by ABC7 Los Angeles, shows the scene where a railroad tank car...
Associated Press

Boiling chemical on rail car forces evacuation in California

PERRIS, Calif. (AP) — A section of a major Southern California freeway was shut down and 170 homes were under evacuation orders Friday as a chemical reaction inside a railroad tank car threatened to cause an explosion, authorities said. The tank car was parked on a spur off a main rail line along Interstate 215 […]
21 hours ago
FILE - A sign reading "My body, my Choice," is taped to a hanger taped to a streetlight in front of...
Associated Press

Idaho Supreme Court won’t block strict abortion bans

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s strict abortion bans will be allowed to take effect while legal challenges over the laws play out in court, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled Friday. The ruling means potential relatives of an embryo or fetus can now sue abortion providers over procedures done after six weeks of gestation — before […]
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
Judges keeping Capitol riot trials in DC amid bias claims