WASHINGTON — A federal judge granted a group of Proud Boys’ motion to vacate their August trial date Wednesday due to concerns about how the ongoing January 6th Committee hearings could impact their cases.
“I’m going to reluctantly grant the motion,” U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly said at the opening of the hearing Wednesday. Three defendants in the case – Joseph Biggs, Dominic Pezzola and Zachary Rehl – had signed on and last week the Justice Department agreed as well that a new trial date was warranted.
The group, which also includes Ethan Nordean and former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio, has argued in court and in filings that the committee’s ongoing and high-profile public hearings will unduly prejudice their cases. The Proud Boys’ role in the assault on the Capitol have been a major focus of the committee. At the first hearing on June 10, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards testified about she was injured when a group of Proud Boys – motivated, she said, by Biggs – pushed forward through a police barricade. Edwards was knocked down in the process and suffered a traumatic brain injury when her head hit a concrete step.
The committee has also played video depositions from interviews with multiple members of the organization, including Tarrio and a North Carolina Proud Boy, Jeremy Bertino. Bertino, who has not been charged in connection with Jan. 6, told investigators the group saw an “exponential” increase in recruitment after former President Donald Trump told them to “stand back and stand by” during a 2020 presidential debate. An upcoming hearing is expected to further focus on evidence the committee says will show ties between groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers and the Trump White House.
Prosecutors also informed the court earlier this month they expect the committee to release the transcripts of its interviews with more than 1,000 witnesses sometime in September. Prosecutors have said they have not been given access to those transcripts. Last week, the DOJ sent a letter to Timothy Heaphy, the committee’s chief investigative counsel, asking for the transcripts to be turned over.
“It is now readily apparent that the interviews the Select Committee conducted are not just potentially relevant to our overall criminal investigations, but are likely relevant to specific prosecutions that have already commenced,” the DOJ’s letter read.
One issue among many is whether witnesses and/or defendants who’ve spoken to both the committee and DOJ said different things in their interviews – something that could be used to challenge their credibility at trial.
The hearings have also garnered increased public attention to the Jan. 6 cases, with early estimates of 20 million or more viewers for the first hearing. In their motion, Biggs and Pezzola said the hearings are “likely to stay in the public mind” and asked for a trial date after the midterm elections are over and some “dust has settled.”
Only Tarrio objected to moving the trial date. In a response filed Wednesday, his attorney, Nayib Hassan, said they don’t believe he will ever receive a fair jury trial in D.C. no matter the date and opposed delaying the trial any further. Tarrio, like his co-defendants, is currently being held in pretrial detention without bond.
After considering all the above, however, Kelly agreed to the delay over Tarrio’s objection. He gave the parties one week to return to him with a report about a suggested new trial date.
The Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial is expected to last four-to-six weeks. If, as proposed in the Biggs and Pezzola motion, the trial begins on Dec. 12, the group will be the second to go before a jury on charges of seditious conspiracy. Five members of the Oath Keepers, including founder Stewart Rhodes, are currently scheduled to begin trial on the same charge in September.
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