January 6 defendants have started going to trial, and some have taken the stand to testify recently.
Their testimony has lacked credibility with jurors, and a judge said one defendant "lacked candor."
Another accused Capitol rioter declared himself "innocent" at a plea agreement hearing this week.
Anthime Gionet, the far-right video blogger known as "Baked Alaska," made the announcement just before 10 pm Monday: "No stream tonight!"
"Balls deep in legal shit as I prepare for Wednesday's Jan 6 hearing," Gionet told followers on Telegram, two days before he was set to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge stemming from his involvement in the attack on the Capitol.
The hearing could have marked the beginning of the end of Gionet's legal woes from January 6, but there was more to come. Instead of pleading guilty Wednesday to a relatively low-level charge of unlawful picketing or parading at the Capitol, Gionet declared, "I wanted to go to trial, but the prosecutor said if I didn't go to trial they would put a felony on me, so I think this is probably the better route. I believe I'm innocent."
The comment blew up his plea agreement hearing almost as soon as it began. Gionet left the virtual hearing with a trial date in 2023 and the possibility of facing stiffer charges, but with 60 days to reconsider taking the plea deal from prosecutors.
It was just the latest instance of an accused Capitol rioter speaking up in a federal courtroom, perhaps to the detriment of his own legal defense.
In recent weeks, as trials have commenced in connection with January 6, two other accused Capitol rioters have taken the stand to testify in their own defense. Both were found guilty after just hours of jury deliberations.
Following each of those trials, jurors told Insider that the testimony lacked credibility and failed to stand up against a veritable mountain of evidence from federal prosecutors.
The decision to take the stand is always perilous for defendants, legal experts said, subjecting them to cross-examination from prosecutors and opening the risk of untruthful testimony that could work against them at sentencing. But with January 6 cases, the volume amount of video footage and other evidence — including social media posts and text messages — magnifies that risk.
"It's really hard to mitigate that electronic evidence with taking the stand. That's what we're seeing in a lot of these cases," said Michael Sherwin, who oversaw the early weeks of the January 6 investigation as the Trump-appointed acting US attorney in Washington, DC. "The sheer amount of electronic evidence is really making these cases very strong."
The Justice Department said Thursday that, in the 16 months since the Capitol attack, more than 800 people have been arrested on charges related to January 6. Nearly 300 have pleaded guilty to federal charges, "many of whom faced or will face incarceration at sentencing," the Justice Department said.
The Capitol rioter and the coat tree
One of the defendant's testimony appeared to backfire with particular force.
On January 6, 2021, Dustin Thompson emerged from the Senate carrying a coat tree — a "trophy," as his friend described it in a text message that day, from his participation in the attack on the Capitol.
But more than a year later, accused of stealing government property and other charges stemming from the January 6 insurrection, Thompson tried to apply a different varnish on his decision to take the wooden, would-be memento. "I was just moving it out," Thompson testified, claiming he only removed the coat tree to prevent other members of the pro-Trump mob from wielding it as a weapon.
The comment left a federal prosecutor in disbelief. Thompson's own defense lawyer called the claim foolish. Speaking to reporters after Thompson was convicted on all six charges he faced, one juror recounted having to keep himself from laughing at the testimony.
After dismissing the jury, a federal judge appeared to share questions about Thompson's credibility in ordering him detained ahead of sentencing.
"In my view, I don't think he was candid when he testified," Judge Reggie Walton said, calling Thompson's conduct "reprehensible." Walton said Thompson was sure to face prison time and set his sentencing for July 20.
In each of the two previous jury trials, the January 6 defendants elected not to testify. Judges instruct jurors not to hold that decision against defendants and note the constitutional right to not testify at one's own trial.
For Thompson, the decision to testify was necessitated by a defense strategy of blaming his participation in the Capitol attack on former President Donald Trump and his false claims of election fraud. One juror said he empathized with people who go down "rabbit holes" and who "get caught up" in conspiracy theories.
But that juror — who identified himself as a 40-year-old business owner but declined to give his name — said he was bothered by what he saw as a lack of remorse from Thompson.
"At no point did Dustin say what he did was shameful," the juror said after the trial.
The retired cop and the self-defense claim
For the latest January 6 defendant to stand trial, the decision to testify was similiarly driven by a need to take the jury inside his mind on January 6.
Facing charges that he attacked a Washington, DC, police officer outside the Capitol, retired New York City police officer Thomas Webster argued that he acted in self-defense on January 6 after the officer hit him in the face like a "freight train." On the witness stand, the Washington, DC, police officer testified that he "incidentally" touched Webster's face with an open hand while gesturing for him to back up.
But Webster said he was "seeing stars."
Prosecutors showed video footage of Webster confronting the officer at a bike rack outside the Capitol and pushing the metal barrier into him. The video footage showed Webster then backing up and swinging a metal flag pole — bearing the Marine Corps flag — down at the bike rack.
Webster then breached the bike rack and tackled the police officer to the ground, where he tried to remove his helmet and gas mask. On the witness stand, Webster said he put his hands to the officer's gas mask so he could "see my hands," as though to deescalate the confrontation.
But, after the trial, jurors said the video footage belied Webster's claims of self-defense.
"There was just a lot of evidence from every conceivable angle," said one juror, who identified himself as a Washington, DC, hospital worker who was asked to stay late on January 6 for a potential mass casualty event. "There's so much video footage all just laid out in front of us in a really comprehensive way."
Another juror, Doris Spruell, was more blunt about Webster's testimony.
"I did not think it was credible," she said.
Read the original article on Business Insider