A federal judge found a former Energy Department contract engineer not guilty in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, citing the defendant's argument that police officers allowed him into the building. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a 2017 Donald Trump appointee, acquitted Matthew Martin of Santa Fe, N.M., of four misdemeanor counts of trespassing and disorderly conduct in a bench trial — handing the Justice Department its first defeat in a Capitol breach prosecution. Martin, who testified in his own defense, argued that he had never visited the U.S. Capitol before and did not know it was off-limits to protesters.
McFadden’s verdict after a two-day bench trial is not binding on other judges, but his findings could encourage some other defendants to contest their charges, the Washington Post reports. About 384 people like Martin face only misdemeanor counts in the Capitol siege, about half of the more than 770 people federally charged. About 150 of more than 200 people who have pleaded guilty have admitted to misdemeanor offenses only, typically to nonviolent counts such as entering or remaining in restricted Capitol buildings or grounds, or illegal picketing, parading or demonstrating. Martin was acquitted of each of those offenses, and, like some other defendants, claimed he had no knowledge he was illegally trespassing. McFadden ruled that while prosecutors had shown that Martin “more likely than not knew he was not supposed to go in” to the Capitol, the actions of U.S. Capitol Police officers at a key entrance created reasonable doubt.