- Guy Wesley Reffitt has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
- “The defendant was the tip of this mob’s spear,” one federal prosecutor said.
- Two of Reffitt’s teenage children are expected to be called as prosecution witnesses.
WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors opened the first jury trial to emerge from the sprawling investigation of the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol assault on Wednesday, dramatically casting a Texas man as the “tip of the mob’s spear” that sought to halt the certification of the 2020 election.
In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said Guy Wesley Reffitt, a member of the paramilitary Three Percenters, plunged into the crowd with a handgun holstered to his waist having specifically planned to target House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“We’re taking the Capitol before the day is over,” Nestler said, referring to messages the defendant allegedly sent to associates.
“I just want to see Pelosi’s head hitting every f—— stair on the way out,” Reffitt allegedly boasted in another message.
“The defendant was the tip of this mob’s spear,” Nestler said. “He planned to light the match to start the fire.”
Reffitt’s attorney, William Welch, offered a brief rejection of the government’s case.
He said his client had no violent intentions, claiming that Reffitt “never assaulted anyone.”
If Reffitt was guilty of anything, it was engaging in hyperbole, the attorney said.
“Guy does brag,” Welch said. “He exaggerates; he rants.”
Welch also denied that Reffitt was armed or interfered with officers seeking to stop the onslaught.
“This is a trial of proof versus fiction,” Welch said.
Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, is charged with obstructing Congress, interfering with law enforcement, two firearm-related charges and obstructing justice. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Wearing a dark sport coat, blue shirt, blue jeans and hair swept back in a pony tail, Reffitt displayed little reaction. He took notes during the government’s presentation, and watched from his chair when his attorney took the podium.
The defense lawyer’s account, however, appeared to be contradicted by the government’s first witness – a Capitol Police officer who encountered him that day.
Narrating a video showing an angry crowd advancing up a west outside stairway of the Capitol, Officer Shauni Kerkhoff identified Reffitt, wearing a blue coat and black tactical helmet, as leading a flag-waving mob.
Kerkhoff, who has since left the Capitol Police, said Reffitt disregarded repeated commands to stop, prompting her and two other officers to launch a barrage of non-lethal projectiles.
“They didn’t seem to take effect,” Kerkhoff told the jury, adding that Reffitt began waving the crowd on. “My concern is that they would get to members of Congress.”
Kerkhoff estimated that she fired 40 to 50 rounds of the projectiles, aiming variously at Reffitt’s chest, shins and thighs. But nothing seemed to stop the defendant and others advancing toward the officers.
Fearing that the officers would be overtaken, Kerkhoff made an urgent call for help.
“We need back-up!” Kerkhoff called out, according to a radio transmission played for the jury.
More:A Texas man will be the first Jan. 6 defendant to face a jury. His trial could set the tone for others.
Opening arguments and the first witness testimony followed two days of jury selection that underscored the challenge of seating an impartial panel in a case drawn from the violent insurrection that unfolded on live television and within blocks of some of the prospective jurors’ homes.
Nine men and seven women, including four alternates, were ultimately seated late Tuesday.
During questioning Tuesday, candidates not only expressed strong feelings about the attack but some described their associations with Capitol Police officers who were injured that day.
Another Capitol Hill resident was excused after acknowledging that he had recently seen a photograph of Reffitt and a press report outlining the charges against him.
Included in the report, were details about an alleged threat Reffitt made against his children while warning them not to cooperate with federal authorities seeking information about his involvement in the riot.
Two of Reffitt’s teenage children are expected to be called as prosecution witnesses.
Nestler set the stage Wednesday for the testimony of one of those children, Jackson Reffitt, 19, who the prosecutor said made the “wrenching decision” to approach the FBI on Christmas Eve 2020 to alert them about his father’s plans for Jan. 6.
“The defendant told his son about plans to commit acts of violence,” Nestler told jurors.
“What’s about to happen will shock the world,” Reffitt allegedly told his son. “That’s why I’m going to D.C.”
When Reffitt returned home, aware that the insurrection had prompted the far-reaching federal investigation, the father allegedly warned his son and daughter not to share the information with investigators.
Jackson Reffitt allegedly used his cellphone to record the father speaking to family members about his participation in the assault.
Prosecutors said they will use the son’s testimony to “introduce and authenticate” five of the audio recordings for the jury.
The son and 17-year-old daughter are likely to recount how their father allegedly warned them against cooperating with law enforcement in any investigation related to his trip.
The children, according to court documents, were in the family kitchen when (the daughter) “heard her father tell them that if they turned him in to law enforcement, they would be traitors, and that traitors get shot.”
The trial, which is expected to serve as a template of sorts for more to follow, is proceeding amid strict coronavirus-related controls that have limited in-person access to the courtroom.
More:Judge rejects in-person public access to testimony in first Jan. 6 jury trial, cites COVID
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich relaxed an earlier ruling that would have barred the public and media from observing testimony and the presentation of evidence, allowing for a member of the press, a Reffitt family member and one public seat.
To provide adequate social distancing, the jury is being seated in the courtroom gallery, traditionally reserved for the public.