A federal judge has rejected several arguments endorsed by members of a right-wing militia group, including a Thomasville woman, that the indictments against them in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol were fatally flawed and should be thrown out.
He also said a request to move any trials out of Washington, D.C., was premature.
Meanwhile, one of the same group entered a plea agreement Wednesday and said he will cooperate with prosecutors against other defendants.
The dismissal arguments had been filed by the attorneys for just three members of the Oath Keepers, but Laura Lee Steele, 52, of Thomasville and other members of the group who have been indicted joined the sweeping motions suggesting that prosecutors botched their case, overreached the law and sought to single out people who hold “unpopular ideas or beliefs for outsized punishments.”
The motions largely leaned on arguments that the legal language in the laws under which the defendants were charged cannot apply to what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6. For instance, the term “official proceeding” cannot refer to Congress certifying the Electoral College vote because that is not a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, they argued.
The ruling filed Tuesday by Judge Amit Mehta of U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia addressed four of six arguments to have charges dismissed. He wrote that he would not address the other two arguments — on the charges of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding — until attorneys submit more briefs on those issues.
On the arguments filed by attorneys for two defendants, Thomas E. Caldwell and Kenneth Harrelson, to dismiss the charge of entering or remaining on restricted grounds — one of the charges that Steele faces — Mehta rejected their interpretation of the language in the law.
Caldwell’s attorney argued that the statute under which the Oath Keepers are charged applied only to places specifically restricted by the Secret Service, and Harrelson’s argued that the statute was unconstitutionally vague.
Caldwell’s attorney also sought to move trials out of Washington on the grounds that extensive media coverage has tainted the potential jury pool and that residents of Washington were far too liberal to render a fair verdict.
Mehta noted that courts normally require findings of bias during jury selection before making such a decision.
“His assertions that media coverage ‘ha[s] prejudiced the potential District jury pool’ are based entirely on his own speculation,” he wrote. “Nor is there any proof that the residents of the District of Columbia have any preconceived notions about Caldwell specifically, let alone that anything about him has been ‘seared into the minds of potential D.C. jurors.’ ”
A hearing in the case is scheduled for today.
Steele has been under strict home-confinement while awaiting trial, but her attorney filed a request Wednesday for Mehta to release her from home-confinement and place her under the equivalent of “high-intensity” supervision that would allow her movement around the community. It was not clear whether Mehta would consider that request at today’s hearing.
Jason Dolan, a retired Marine, pleaded guilty late Wednesday afternoon to conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, and he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testify before a grand jury investigating the Jan. 6 events.
Mehta said the prison sentence Dolan could face is estimated to be 63 to 78 months, plus a fine of up to $250,000.
Dolan is the second in this group of Oath Keepers to plead guilty and cooperate. The first was Steele’s brother, Graydon Young of Florida.