WASHINGTON — After two full days of questioning, a jury of 16 people was empaneled Tuesday to hear the government’s case against Guy Wesley Reffitt – an alleged Texas Three Percenter and the first of more than 700 Capitol riot defendants to go to trial.
The 49-year-old Reffitt, dressed both days in a sport coat and dress shirt – his hair pulled back in a fresh jail cut and short ponytail – watched quietly as attorneys worked through a pool of dozens of potential jurors. Reffitt smiled at each juror as they entered and occasionally took notes while his attorney, William L. Welch III, listened carefully, occasionally pressing a juror on their views on firearms, law enforcement or supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Leading up to the trial, Welch had asked U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich to move the case out of D.C., arguing the District couldn’t produce a jury untainted by overwhelming news coverage of the Capitol riot and a pervasive, anti-conservative bias. While a handful of potential jurors did say they had strong negative feelings about Trump or had closely followed the Capitol riot cases, jurors were more likely to say they had only limited exposure to coverage since Jan. 6. One juror, summarizing a common sentiment, described herself as a “headline reader.”
More often, potential jurors were struck from the pool because of their personal connections to the U.S. Capitol itself. At least two jurors said they knew U.S. Capitol Police or DC Police officers who were injured on Jan. 6. Several others told Friedrich they were employed by the Architect of the Capitol – including one, a woodworker, who said his only real news exposure to the riot was a story about rare wood brought in to repair damaged furniture.
“My job is to maintain those buildings, and to see them damaged that day was pretty hard,” one of the Architect’s employees said.
A small number did express a vocal bias, like Juror 0443, who didn’t mince words.
“Can I speak from my heart?” he said. “I think anybody who went in there was already guilty. I think they should be prosecuted to the max.”
Ultimately, though, nine men and seven women – nine white, five Black and two Asian jurors – were selected to judge whether Reffitt is guilty of the five felony charges he faces.
The jurors include a woman who works at NASA, a D.C. Public Schools maintenance worker, a man who described himself as an entrepreneur and said he did mock trial in high school, a retired scientist, an IT professional and the woodworker who said he knew little about the case.
All 16 will return Wednesday morning to begin hearing opening arguments. Prosecutors said Tuesday their case would begin by showing jurors statements from Reffitt himself made to his family, a fellow militia member and captured on his GoPro during the riot. The government's first witness was expected to be a U.S. Capitol Police officer who will testify about the effort to repel Reffitt from entering the building on Jan. 6.
Day 2: Civil Disobedience and the 'Street Code'
The most significant moment of contention over a juror came late in the day Tuesday, when assistant U.S. attorney Risa Berkower repeatedly pushed a woman on her history of participating in nonviolent protests.
The woman, who, Friedrich noted, was in her 70s and was not required to serve jury duty, said she had participated in many symbolic arrests during climate change or anti-war protests.
“I believe in civil disobedience,” the woman said. “To me, it wasn’t harming anybody.”
“So you take it upon yourself to decide when it’s OK to violate the law?” Berkower asked.
“Yes, it’s a moral choice I take,” the woman replied.
Berkower argued the woman had expressed a belief in her right to break laws and said she had been arrested for refusing to leave an area – a similar charge to one of the counts against Reffitt.
In an exchange that briefly grew heated, Friedrich said the woman had repeatedly stressed her belief in nonviolent protest and that protestors who violate laws should be subject to the penalty for that. She also said the Justice Department had over and over again affirmed to her its theory of the case was that Reffitt had attempted or aided and abetted assault, not merely trespassing.
Friedrich ultimately said the juror would stay in the pool and advised Berkower the DOJ could use a peremptory challenge to strike her if they wished
Other prospective jurors during Day 2 didn’t make the cut. One man was quickly dismissed after telling Friedrich as soon as he heard what the case was about, “I heard guilty in my head.” Another juror, a woman who said she was newly pregnant, was dismissed due to pending doctor’s appointments. A third juror was dismissed for a host of reasons, including telling Friedrich she was unwilling to fulfill her civic duty to serve on a jury and believed in the “street code” that if a person brings a gun somewhere, they intend to use it.
Friedrich said she initially thought the woman was just attempting to avoid jury duty, but was eventually persuaded she would have legitimate problems remaining unbiased.
Friedrich had hoped to begin opening arguments Tuesday afternoon, but jury questioning dragged on for most of the day. It was nearly five o’clock by the time the court moved to the final phase, known as peremptory challenges, where each side was allowed to strike a small number of jurors for any reason. It was just before 6 p.m. when the 16 jurors were informed they had been selected.
Day 1: Questions About Fear, Bias
Though dozens of potential jurors were qualified, the first round of voir dire Monday showed the difficulty in filling out a jury in a city where so much of life revolves around the site of the crime.
One juror told Friedrich he had friends who worked in Senate offices and his father was a major donor to former President Donald Trump’s campaign. His step-mother, Kelly Craft, served as the U.S. ambassador to Canada and then to the United Nations.
At least 10 defendants said they were lawyers with varying connections to the Capitol, the case or the former president. One said she’s currently undergoing a background check for a job at the Department of Justice. Another worked at a firm that handled bankruptcy work for Trump – and said she lived in a Trump building for a time. A third said she was friends with defense attorney Heather Shaner, who is representing a number of other clients in Capitol riot cases.
For others, the connection was more personal. A juror told Friedrich he viewed Jan. 6 as “an attack on my home.” He recalled family who lived in Capitol Hill telling him about the troop transports parked on their streets after the attack.
“It was a very scary time,” he said.
Friedrich questioned him, as she did all of the jurors, about whether he could overcome his biases.
“Knowing you still have this latent fear and alarm, would you still be able to set that aside?” she asked.
“I would do my best [to be fair], but it was a very difficult day,” he said.
Yet another juror, a former spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said he walked out of his home near Capitol Hill and saw the assault on the western side of the Capitol with his own eyes. He was struck for cause after Friedrich said she was worried his experience would bias him.
On the other hand, even in D.C., a number of jurors reported little to no knowledge of the riot. One woman told the judge she hadn’t read or seen nearly any of the coverage over the past year.
“The media sensationalize things,” she said in explanation.
Another man, Juror 0193, said he tries “pretty hard to avoid news” – explaining under questioning from assistant U.S. attorney Risa Berkower it led to increased happiness.
Even those with some exposure to the event struggled to name specifics. Though at least half a dozen people referenced “the QAnon Shaman” or “the horned guy,” none could offer his actual name, Jacob Chansley. And as to Ashli Babbitt, the U.S. Air Force veteran and QAnon believer who was killed on Jan. 6, multiple jurors could only refer to her as “the woman who got shot.” Another woman said she remembered reading about the Proud Boys and Rudy Giuliani who, though he spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally prior, is not alleged to have been at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
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