WASHINGTON, March 2 (Reuters) – The Texas man who is the first person to stand trial for joining the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol told a friend he wanted to drag Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi out of the building, a prosecutor said on Wednesday.
Guy Reffitt of Wylie, Texas, is the first of some 750 people charged with joining the riot by former President Donald Trump’s supporters to face trial in Washington. Reffitt has pleaded not guilty to five charges, including carrying a semi-automatic handgun while on Capitol grounds.
“The defendant was the tip of this mob’s spear,” federal prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler told jurors in his opening statement, saying Reffitt led a mob of rioters up the Capitol’s stairs to “overwhelm” police and storm the building.
Nestler said Reffitt texted a friend about plans to drag Pelosi and other lawmakers from the building.
“I just want to see Pelosi’s head hitting every fucking stair” of the building, Reffitt told the friend, according to the prosecutor.
Reffitt’s lawyer, William Welch, gave a brief opening statement, addressing jurors for only two minutes.
“He exaggerates and he rants,” Welch said of his client. “This trial will be about fact versus hype.”
Some 200 defendants have already pleaded guilty to joining the mob, which sent lawmakers running for their lives. Reffitt’s trial is an important test case as the U.S. Justice Department attempts to secure convictions from the hundreds of defendants who have not taken plea deals.
They face charges ranging from unlawful picketing to seditious conspiracy, with which 11 people affiliated with the right-wing Oath Keepers were charged in January.
One of those 11 defendants, Joshua James, pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors on Wednesday. The deal was a notable victory for the Justice Department, which hopes to secure a similar conviction against Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and other defendants in the sedition case.
A guilty verdict for Reffitt could motivate defendants to accept plea deals offered by prosecutors. But a verdict in Reffitt’s favor could encourage the hundreds of defendants who have not taken plea deals to roll the dice on a trial.
Reffitt also faces charges of obstruction for allegedly threatening his teenage children with harm if they turned him in to authorities.
Reffitt’s estranged son Jackson, now 19, turned him in to the FBI. The son will testify against his father at trial, Nestler said.
Thousands of people stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 last year after a fiery speech in which Trump falsely claimed his election defeat was the result of widespread fraud, an assertion rejected by multiple courts, state election officials and members of his own administration.
Four people died on the day of the violence, one shot dead by police and the other three of natural causes. A Capitol Police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the following day.
Four police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later took their own lives. More than a hundred police officers were injured in the riot.
Two police officers who guarded the Capitol testified to the jury in Reffitt’s case on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Karishma Singh)