WASHINGTON (AP) — An Ohio man who claimed he was only “following Presidential orders” from Donald Trump when he stormed the U.S. Capitol was swiftly convicted Thursday of impeding Congress to certify Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020.
Within three hours, a federal jury also found Dustin Byron Thompson, 38, guilty of five other offenses, including stealing a coat rack from an office inside the Capitol during the 6 January of last year. The maximum penalty for the count of obstruction, the only crime, is 20 years in prison.
Jurors rejected Thompson’s new defense, in which he blamed Trump and members of the president’s inner circle for the insurgency and for his own actions.
The judge didn’t buy that defense either, though he placed his own blame on Trump’s leadership after the verdict was announced.
“I think our democracy is in trouble,” District Judge Reggie Walton said, adding that “quacks” like Trump don’t care about democracy, only power.
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“And as a result of that, it’s tearing our country apart,” Judge said.
Prosecutors did not request that Thompson be detained immediately, but Walton ordered his detention and he was led away in handcuffs. The judge said he did not believe Thompson’s story, believed he was a flight risk and posed a danger to the public. Sentencing was set for July 20.
Thompson’s jury trial was the third among hundreds of Capitol riot cases prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. In the first two cases, the jurors convicted both defendants of all charges.
Thompson, an exterminator who lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic, was the first Capitol riot defendant to mount a trial defense accusing Trump and members of his inner circle of the insurgency.
Jurors heard arguments from attorneys earlier in the day.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Dreher said Thompson, a college-educated exterminator who lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic, knew he was breaking the law when he joined the mob that attacked the Capitol and , in his case, looted the seat of the Senate parliamentarian. Office. The prosecutor told jurors that Thompson’s attorney “wants you to believe that you have to choose between President Trump and his client.”
“You don’t have to choose because this is not President Trump’s trial. This is Dustin Thompson’s trial because of what he did on Capitol Hill on the afternoon of January 6th,” Dreher said.
Defense attorney Samuel Shamansky said Thompson did not avoid taking responsibility for his conduct that day.
“This shameful chapter in our history is entirely on television,” Shamansky told jurors.
But he said Thompson, unemployed and consumed by a constant diet of conspiracy theories, was vulnerable to Trump’s lies about a stolen election. He described Thompson as a “pawn” and Trump as a “gangster” who abused his power to manipulate supporters.
“The vulnerable are seduced by the strong, and that’s what happened here,” Shamansky said.
Thompson’s jury trial is the third among hundreds of Capitol riot cases prosecuted by the US Department of Justice. In the first two cases, the jurors convicted the defendants of all charges.
Judge Walton barred Thompson’s lawyer from calling Trump and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as witnesses in the trial. But the judge ruled jurors could hear recordings of speeches Trump and Giuliani gave on Jan. 6, before the riot broke out. A recording of Trump’s remarks was released.
Shamansky claimed that Giuliani incited the rioters by encouraging them to engage in a “trial by combat” and that Trump provoked the crowd by saying that “if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have any more country”.
Dreher told jurors that neither Trump nor Giuliani had the power to “legalize” what Thompson did on Capitol Hill.
Thompson, who testified Wednesday, admitted he joined the mob attack and stole the coat rack and a bottle of bourbon from the Senate Congressman’s office. He said he regretted his “shameful” behavior.
“I can’t believe what I did,” he said. “Crowd mentality and groupthink are very real and very dangerous.”
Thompson said he believed Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen and that he was trying to defend the president from the lame duck.
“If the president almost orders you to do something, I felt obligated to do it,” he testified.
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Thompson is charged with six counts: obstructing the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote, stealing government property, entering or staying in a restricted building or property, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or land, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a Capitol building, and marching, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
Count of obstruction is the only felony charge. The rest are misdemeanors.
Thompson drove from Ohio to Washington with a friend, Robert Lyon, who was also arrested less than a month after the riot. Lyon pleaded guilty in March to two misdemeanors – theft of government property and disorderly conduct – and is due to be sentenced on June 3.
Thompson and Lyon took an Uber ride to Washington on the morning of Jan. 6. After Trump’s speech, they headed to the Capitol.
Thompson was wearing a bulletproof vest as he entered the building and went to the parliamentarian’s office. The FBI said agents later searched Lyon’s cellphone and found video showing a ransacked office and Thompson shouting, “Wooooo!” ‘Merica Hey! It’s our house!”
“(Trump) didn’t force you to go. He didn’t make you walk to the capitol building, did he? Dreher asked Thompson on Wednesday.
“No,” Thompson said.
“You chose to do this?” Dreher asked.
“I was following presidential orders, but yeah,” Thompson said.
More than 770 people have been charged with federal crimes stemming from the riot. More than 250 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. Thompson is the fifth person to stand trial on charges related to the riots.
On Monday, a jury convicted a former Virginia police officer, Thomas Robertson, of storming the Capitol with another off-duty officer. Last month, a jury convicted a Texas man, Guy Reffitt, of storming the building with a holstered handgun.
A judge hearing evidence without a jury decided cases against two other Capitol riot defendants in separate trials. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden acquitted one of all charges and partially acquitted the other.
Associated Press reporter Jacques Billeaud contributed from Phoenix.