A Texas man has been convicted of storming the US Capitol in Washington DC with a holstered handgun, a milestone victory for federal prosecutors in the first trial among hundreds of cases arising from last year’s riot.
A jury also convicted Guy Wesley Reffitt of interfering with police officers who were guarding the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and of obstructing justice for threatening his two teenage children if they reported him to law enforcement after the attack.
Jurors deliberated for about three hours and convicted him on all counts.
It could give Justice Department prosecutors more leverage in plea negotiations and discourage other defendants from gambling on trials of their own.
Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, did not testify at his trial, which started last Wednesday.
During the trial’s closing arguments on Monday, Assistant US Attorney Risa Berkower told jurors that Reffitt drove to Washington intending to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Reffitt proudly “lit the fire” that allowed others in a mob to overwhelm Capitol police officers near the Senate doors, the prosecutor said.
Reffitt was not accused of entering the Capitol building. Defence attorney William Welch said there is no evidence that Reffitt damaged property, used force or physically harmed anybody.
The defence lawyer urged jurors to acquit Reffitt of all charges but one: He said they should convict him of a charge that he entered and remained in a restricted area.
Reffitt faced a total of five counts: obstruction of an official proceeding, being unlawfully present on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm, transporting firearms during a civil disorder, interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder, and obstruction of justice.
Jurors saw videos that captured the confrontation between a few Capitol police officers and a mob of people, including Reffitt, who approached them on the west side of the Capitol.
Reffitt was armed with a Smith & Wesson pistol in a holster on his waist, carrying zip-tie handcuffs and wearing body armour and a helmet equipped with a video camera when he advanced on police, according to prosecutors.
He retreated after an officer pepper sprayed him in the face, but he waved on other rioters who ultimately breached the building, prosecutors said.
Before the crowd advanced, Reffitt used a megaphone to shout at police to step aside and to urge the mob to push forward and overtake officers.
Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said Reffitt played a leadership role that day.
Reffitt’s 19-year-old son, Jackson, testified last Thursday that his father threatened him and his sister, then 16, after he drove home from Washington.
Reffitt told his children they would be traitors if they reported him to authorities and said “traitors get shot”, Jackson Reffitt recalled.
More than 750 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. Over 220 of them have pleaded guilty – and more than 110 of them have been sentenced. Approximately 90 others have trial dates.