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Judge pronounces first outright acquittal of defendant charged Jan. 6 : NPR


Rioters loyal to former President Donald Trump gather at the US Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.

Jose Luis Magana/AP


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Jose Luis Magana/AP

Judge pronounces first outright acquittal of defendant charged Jan. 6 : NPR

Rioters loyal to former President Donald Trump gather at the US Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday acquitted a New Mexico man on misdemeanor charges of unlawfully entering the U.S. Capitol and engaging in disorderly conduct after entering the building during last year’s riot .

U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden delivered the verdict after hearing evidence without a jury in the case against Matthew Martin. McFadden, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump, acquitted Martin of all four counts he was charged with.

McFadden said it was reasonable for Martin to believe that outnumbered police allowed him and others to enter the Capitol through the rotunda doors on Jan. 6, 2021. The judge ruled also said Martin’s actions were “about as minor and not serious” as anyone. who was at the Capitol that day.

Martin is the third Capitol riot defendant whose case has been resolved by trial. He is the first of the three to be acquitted of all the charges he faced. The first two Capitol Riot trials ended in convictions, though McFadden acquitted one of those defendants on a disorderly conduct charge after a bench trial last month.

At the same courthouse where Martin was acquitted, a fourth trial continued Wednesday for a former Virginia police officer accused of storming the Capitol with another off-duty officer. Jurors heard testimony from the fellow officer, who pleaded guilty to a riot-related charge and agreed to be a witness for prosecutors.

Martin, whose trial began on Tuesday, said a police officer ushered him into the building after the riot broke out. A prosecutor dismissed that testimony as “nonsense.”

The judge, however, said the video shows two police officers standing near the rotunda doors and allowing people to enter as Martin approaches. One of the officers appeared to lean back before Martin put a hand on the officer’s shoulder in a possible sign of gratitude, the judge said.

McFadden described Martin’s testimony as “widely credible”. The judge said it was not unreasonable for him to believe that officers allowed him into the Capitol even though alarms were sounding and broken glass was strewn on the floor.

Martin was charged with four misdemeanor counts: entering and staying in a restricted-access building, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted-access building, violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, and marching, demonstrating or picketing a building. of the Capitol.

The judge said Martin appeared to be a “silent observer of the actions of others”. McFadden found no evidence that Martin intended to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.

Dozens of Capitol Riot defendants have pleaded guilty and been sentenced, but Martin is the first to testify at trial. His acquittal could embolden others to bet on a bench trial, although McFadden is so far the only judge to preside over one and decide a case.

Martin said he was “going with the flow” as he approached the Capitol and testified that he saw a police officer wave him into the building. Martin remained inside the Capitol for about 10 minutes after entering the building through the rotunda doors, prosecutors say.

Martin said he was “enjoying the day” of the riot.

“It was a magical day in many ways,” he said on Tuesday before adding, “I know bad things have happened.”

“Do you understand that police officers died? Justice Department prosecutor Michael Romano asked Martin.

At least nine people died in the riot or its aftermath. An officer died after collapsing hours after being pepper sprayed and other officers who tried to quell the riot took their own lives in the months after the attack.

Prosecutors said Martin, an engineer, worked for a government contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and held a top-secret security clearance on January 6. Martin said he actually worked at another facility in Los Alamos.

Defense attorney Dan Cron said Martin saw another person shake hands with a police officer after entering the Capitol. Martin put his hand on an officer’s shoulder “as a sign of thanks and goodwill,” Cron said.

Romano, the Justice Department prosecutor, said Martin joined the crowd in rounding up police who were trying to disperse the crowd. The prosecutor said Martin knew he was not allowed to be in the Capitol.

“The idea that he thought he had permission to do that is nonsense,” Romano said.

Other riot defendants said police waved them in or said they could come in.

McFadden last month chaired a bench test for Cuoy Griffin, a New Mexico county official. On March 22, the judge found Griffin guilty of unlawfully trespassing on restricted grounds of the United States Capitol, but acquitted him of engaging in disorderly conduct.

On March 8, a jury decided the Capitol’s first riot trial convicting a Texas man, Guy Reffitt, of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun.

Following Martin’s acquittal on Wednesday, a jury in another courtroom heard a second day of testimony for the trial of former Rocky Mount, Va. police officer Thomas Robertson. The city fired Robertson and another officer, Jacob Fracker, who joined him at the Capitol on January 6.

Fracker was due to stand trial alongside Robertson before pleading guilty last month to a conspiracy charge and agreeing to testify against someone who was his mentor and a father figure.

“I absolutely hate it,” Fracker said. “I’ve always been on the other side of things, on the good side so to speak.”

Fracker testified that he and Robertson both believed the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump. Fracker said they both wore gas masks as they joined a crowd to storm the Capitol.

When asked why he went to the Capitol that day, Fracker said he wanted to play a role in overturning the election results.

“I felt like maybe we were heard by whoever we needed to be heard from,” Fracker said.

He said he was ashamed of his actions on January 6.

“That’s not the person I am,” he said. “I wasn’t brought up like that.”

Fracker is scheduled to be cross-examined by one of Robertson’s attorneys on Thursday.

Prosecutors plan to call two other witnesses, a police officer and an FBI agent. A defense attorney said Robertson could testify. The jurors could hear the arguments of the lawyers as early as Friday.

More than 770 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riots. More than 240 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors, and more than 140 of them have been sentenced.

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