Fair Trials Are Impossible for January 6 Defendants 

Odds are jurors in Douglas Austin Jensen’s trial took longer to fill out the verdict forms than they took to decide his fate.

After only a few hours of deliberations on Friday, 12 residents of the nation’s capital found Jensen guilty on seven counts related to his involvement in the Capitol protest on January 6, 2021. Jensen, an alleged QAnon follower, infamously confronted Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman inside the building that afternoon; he potentially faces decades in prison for convictions on impeding law enforcement officers and obstruction of an official proceeding, a dubious nonviolent felony punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

NBC News reporter Ryan Reilly, who covers all things January 6, noted in a tweet that “An ongoing issue with these Jan. 6 jury trials is that you barely have time to write the story on closing arguments before the jury returns their guilty verdicts.” Reilly then swooned over the Department of Justice’s “flawless” track record before D.C. juries.

CBS News reporter Scott MacFarlane predicted the jury would finish its work in one afternoon since January 6 juries have deliberated “swiftly so far.”

Jensen’s conviction adds to the Department of Justice’s undefeated streak for January 6 jury trials. Once upon a time, that would raise at least a sliver of skepticism from journalists and legal “experts” as to whether the constitutional rights, namely the right to face a jury of your peers, are being protected in an unquestionably political prosecution of dissidents of the regime. Instead, these verdicts are praised by the ruling class as proof that the “rule of law” and “justice” still prevail in this country—all evidence to the contrary, of course.

It is clear, after six months of jury trials for Capitol protesters, i.e., Donald Trump supporters, that no one charged in this sprawling criminal investigation can get a fair trial. 

Judges on the D.C. District Court have denied every change of venue motion, absurdly insisting residents of a city that voted 93 percent for Joe Biden in 2020 can be fair and impartial. Further, judges claim nonstop news coverage in addition to the televised performances of the January 6 select committee do not further taint a demonstrably tainted jury pool.

Judge Amit Mehta in February denied a change of venue motion filed in the case of the Oath Keepers, the so-called “militia” group that entered the Capitol on January 6. In a lengthy diatribe, Mehta, an Obama appointee who has lived in the D.C. area most of his adult life, rejected the defense’s argument that their clients could not get a fair trial. 

“[Never], not once in my time as a judge or a defense lawyer, [have I] thought that the people of the District of Columbia who’ve served on juries have done anything other than the job they’ve been asked to, which is dispassionately view the evidence without regard to what the conduct is that’s alleged and who the defendant is,” Mehta said.

Mehta denied another change of venue motion in June after the government filed rare “seditious conspiracy” charges against 11 Oath Keepers. Admitting that “news coverage of the events of January 6th has been extensive locally,” Mehta continued to insist the residents of his hometown could suspend their political beliefs and consider the evidence on an impartial basis. Jury selection, Mehta claimed, is the key to “identifying unbiased jurors.”

Since then, juries have returned unanimous guilty verdicts on every count in record time.

Now, armed with those outcomes and results of a survey showing Washington’s unusual level of prejudice against January 6 protesters, defense attorneys for five Oath Keepers are again asking Mehta to transfer the trial, which starts Tuesday, to another jurisdiction in order to protect the Fifth and Sixth amendment rights of their clients. (This is the first of three Oath Keepers’ trials.)

The motion cites Joe Biden’s incessant public condemnations of Capitol protesters, including his September “Soul of the Nation” speech when he referred to the accused as “insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy” in one example of how the government is rigging the jury pool against January 6 defendants.

Defense counsel raised the conflict created by the January 6 select committee’s next hearing, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, one day after jury selection begins. The committee not only has fixated on the Oath Keepers during widely televised performances, including featuring testimony from a former member of the group at a July hearing, but defense attorneys also pointed to the committee’s social media activity as another example of how Congress is influencing potential jurors. 

Just last week, the committee’s Twitter account posted incriminating audio recordings of one defendant facing trial, a recording that Mehta in part ruled as inadmissible in court. That tweet has nearly 18,000 retweets and more than 35,000 likes. Another video posted by the January 6 committee on September 13 showed a text of defendant Kelly Meggs and footage of defendant Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers. Both men will be on trial next week.

While surveys indicate a much heavier bias among residents of the nation’s capital versus other areas of the country—for example, 72 percent of D.C. residents said they were likely to find a January 6 defendant guilty compared with 48 percent of people living in eastern Virginia and only 37 percent of people living in northern Florida who would render the same judgment —responses from questionnaires sent to prospective jurors for the trial now support that bias.

“[The] initial panel of 151 people shows over 51% admitting to prejudgment bias, under oath,” David Fischer, the attorney representing Thomas Caldwell, wrote in the September 23 motion. Less than half the respondents, Fischer disclosed, “claimed that they could be fair” when considering key aspects of the case.

“The latent bias in this jurisdiction is now supported by sworn written responses by a jury panel, and the latest targeting of these Defendants in the news and action by the Select Committee. The effect on D.C. has been profound and a jury, even if they honestly tried, could not be fair and impartial against the—defendants, especially visible in the questionnaire written response.”

Without question, January 6 defendants are unable to get a fair trial in Washington, D.C. The only question is whether judges such as Amit Mehta, all of whom act as a collective rubber stamp for the Justice Department while denying the due process rights of Trump supporters, will recognize it and act accordingly especially when this set of Oath Keepers face life in prison if convicted of seditious conspiracy. Their lives are in the hands of Mehta and, for now, 12 citizens of the most Trump-hating city in the country. Will Mehta do his job and protect their rights? Unfortunately, the answer probably is no.

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