WASHINGTON — A federal judge in DC on Tuesday will hand down verdicts in the trial of three Jan. 6 defendants that could have a major impact on the trajectory of Capitol attacks prosecution going forward.
The three men — Patrick McCaughey, Tristan Stevens, and David Mehaffie — have appeared for a bench, or non-jury trial, before US District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Donald Trump appointee who is the only federal judge in DC who has acquitted a Jan 6 defendant. Following a trial that spanned two weeks, McFadden said he would announce the verdicts at 3 pm on Tuesday afternoon.
Each defendant is facing a number of criminal charges, including felony counts of assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers and aiding and abetting; obstruction of an official proceeding; and civil disorder.
Federal prosecutors have secured guilty verdicts on every charge brought against every defendant in jury trials, so far. A mixed verdict in the bench trial of McCaughey, Stevens, and Mehaffie could encourage even more defendants to try their luck at a bench trial at a time when the Justice Department, FBI, and DC federal court system are struggling to keep pace with a massive investigation that has packed the court docket, with hundreds more arrests still yet to come.
While McFadden has acquitted two defendants on misdemeanor charges (one defendant of all charges, another defendant of one of his charges), neither he nor any judge or jury has acquitted a Capitol defendant on a felony charge.
The case centers around the location of some of the most brutal violence of Jan. 6, at the top of the platform that had been set up for President Joe Biden’s inauguration. The “tunnel” at the top of the temporary scaffolding — referred to by one judge as “the entranceway for Lady Gaga” because of her performance at the inauguration — saw some of the most violent clashes between rioters and police, as hundreds of Trump supporters tried to force their way inside the Capitol. Police officers sustained multiple serious injuries at the location as rioters dragged cops out of the tunnel, including former Metropolitan Police Department Officer Michael Fanone, who had a stun gun driven into his neck.
Online sleuths dubbed McCaughey #ThePinman, Stevens #ShaggyProfessor, and Mehaffie #TunnelCommander. Mehaffie was identified by online sleuths with the help of a facial recognition hit on his her Classmates.com profile. He earned the nickname because footage shows Mehaffie serving as a kind of crossing guard for rioters, standing above and watching the battle while directing other rioters in and out of the tunnel. He is also seen grabbing a stick as officers try to force him off the ledge.
Footage played at trial also shows Mehaffie encouraging members of the mob to climb over a retaining wall on the restricted grounds of the US Capitol before he reached the tunnel where some of the worst violence of Jan. 6 took place.
“If we can’t fight over this wall, we can’t win this battle! Come on!” Mehaffie yells as he encourages others over the retaining wall.
Mehaffie testified during his trial and portrayed his mention of a “battle” as an ideological battle rather than a physical one.
“If you believe our country’s in trouble, we certainly are in a battle as to whether you stand up, we get called names and get lumped into groups. So that is exactly the battle I’m talking about,” Mehaffie testified. “If you can’t enter into the battle of ideas, you’ve, you’ve lost all your freedoms.”
Mehaffie conceded, under cross-examination by Assistant US Attorney Kimberly Paschall, that the mob “knew” that police “wanted us to leave.” Under questioning from his own lawyer, he also said he wished he hadn’t held a stolen police shield up for the cheering crowd, saying it was “exactly the opposite” of what he claimed he wanted to convey.
MPD Officer Daniel Hodges, who was crushed in a door during the Jan. 6 attack, testified for the prosecution about how he was pinned by a police shield being held by defendant McCaughey.
“It, combined with everything else that was going on, made it difficult to breathe,” Hodges testified. “Being crushed by the shield and the people behind it… leaving me defenseless, injured.”
“There is no good way to fight back against it,” Hodges said. “You have to endure the pressure that it creates.”
US Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell also testified, the second time he’s done so in a Capitol attack trial.
Video shows Stevens grabbing a baton, but his defense attorney suggested that Stevens was only trying to defend himself, according to The Washington Post.
“If my memory serves correct, we the officers were the ones on duty that day, not him,” Gonell responded, according to The Washington Post.
Video also shows Stevens asking officers if they knew “what happens to” traitors, as WUSA9 reported.
“They get tied to a post and shot,” Stevens Are you ready for that?”
In the sprawling Capitol investigation, the FBI has arrested more than 850 people, and more than 350 defendants have pleaded guilty. Sentences have ranged from probation to a decade in federal prison for a former New York City Police Department cop who assaulted a DC police officer on Jan. 6 and then lied on the stand.
Eight Capitol attack defendants who took their cases to a jury — Guy Reffitt, Thomas Robertson, Dustin Thompson, Thomas Webster, Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, Anthony Robert Williams, Matthew Bledsoe, and Erik Herrera — were convicted on every count.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism