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Self-Defense, Free Speech Argued By Ex-Cop In Latest Capitol Riot Trial

Jurors have rejected — an array of excuses and arguments from the first rioters to be tried for storming the U.S. Capitol. The next jury in a Capitol riot case could hear another novel defense this week at the trial of a retired New York City police officer, reports the Associated Press. Thomas Webster, a 20-year New York police veteran, says he was acting in self-defense when he tackled a police officer who was trying to protect the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Webster’s lawyer has argued that he was exercising his First Amendment free speech rights when he shouted profanities at police that day. Webster, 56, will be the fourth Capitol riot defendant to get a jury trial. An Ohio man who stole a coat rack from a Capitol office testified he was “following presidential orders” from Donald Trump. An off-duty police officer from Virginia claimed he entered the Capitol to retrieve a fellow officer.

Those defenses didn’t sway juries. A total of 36 jurors unanimously convicted three rioters of all 17 counts. Webster faces the same fate if a federal judge’s words are any guide. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who will preside over Webster’s trial, has described his videotaped conduct as “among the most indefensible and reprehensible” that the judge has seen, with “no real defense for it.” “You were a police officer and you should have known better,” Mehta told Webster in a bond hearing. A wealth of video evidence and self-incriminating behavior by defendants has given prosecutors the upper hand. Georgetown University law Prof. Mary McCord, a former Justice Department official, said jurors often won’t have to rely on witness testimony or circumstantial evidence because videos captured much violence and destruction on Jan. 6. “When I was a prosecutor ... I would have loved to have had cases where the entire crime was on video. That just doesn’t happen ... often. But for jurors, it can be very powerful,” she said. Webster’s trial is the sixth. In two bench trials, a judge heard testimony without juries before acquitting one defendant and partially acquitting another.


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