Ex-officer convicted of storming Capitol to disrupt Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal jury convicted a former Virginia police officer of storming the U.S. Capitol with another off-duty officer to obstruct Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.
Jurors on Monday convicted former Rocky Mount police officer Thomas Robertson of all six counts he faced stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, including charges that he interfered with police officers at the Capitol and that he entered a restricted area with a dangerous weapon, a large wooden stick.
His sentencing hearing wasn’t immediately scheduled.
Robertson’s jury trial was the second among hundreds of Capitol riot cases. The first ended last month with jurors convicting a Texas man, Guy Reffitt, of all five counts in his indictment.
Robertson didn’t testify at his trial, which started last Tuesday. Jurors deliberated for several hours over two days before reaching their unanimous verdict.
One juror, who spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity, said as she left the courthouse, “I think the government made a really compelling case and the evidence was fairly overwhelming.”
Defense attorney Mark Rollins said Robertson will appeal the jury’s verdict. “While Mr. Robertson disagrees with the jury’s decision, he respects the rule of law,” Rollins said in a statement.
A key witness for prosecutors in his case was Jacob Fracker, who also served on the Rocky Mount police force and viewed Robertson as a mentor and father figure. Fracker was scheduled to be tried alongside Robertson before he pleaded guilty last month to a conspiracy charge and agreed to cooperate with authorities. Fracker testified Thursday that he had hoped the mob that attacked the Capitol could overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Robertson was charged with six counts: obstruction of Congress, interfering with officers during a civil disorder, entering a restricted area while carrying a dangerous weapon, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted area while carrying a dangerous weapon, disorderly or disruptive conduct inside the Capitol building, and obstruction. The last charge stems from his alleged post-riot destruction of cellphones belonging to him and Fracker.
During the trial’s closing arguments Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower said Robertson went to Washington and joined a “violent vigilante mob” because he believed the election was stolen from then-President Donald Trump. He used the wooden stick to interfere with outnumbered police before he joined the crowd pouring into the Capitol, she said.
“The defendant did all this because he wanted to overturn the election,” Berkower said.
Rollins conceded that Robertson broke the law when he entered the Capitol during the riot. He encouraged jurors to convict Robertson of misdemeanor offenses but urged them to acquit Robertson of felony charges that he used the stick as a dangerous weapon and that he intended to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote.
“There were no plans to go down there and say, ‘I’m going to stop Congress from doing this vote,’” Rollins said.
Fracker testified that he initially believed that he was merely trespassing when he entered the Capitol building. However, he ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiring with Robertson to obstruct Congress.
Under cross-examination by Rollins, Fracker said he didn’t have a “verbal agreement” with anybody to obstruct the joint session of Congress. Fracker said he believed everybody in the mob “pretty much had the same goal” and didn’t need for it to be “said out loud.”
Robertson and Fracker drove with a neighbor to Washington on the morning of Jan. 6. Robertson brought three gas masks for them to use, according to prosecutors.
After listening to speeches near the Washington Monument, Fracker, Robertson and the neighbor walked toward the Capitol, donned the gas masks and joined the growing mob, prosecutors said. Robertson stopped to help his neighbor, who was having trouble breathing. Fracker broke off and entered the building before Robertson, but they reunited inside the Capitol.
Defense attorney Camille Wagner told jurors that Robertson only went into the Capitol because he wanted to retrieve Fracker, who entered the Capitol a few minutes before Robertson. Wagner said the U.S. Army veteran was using the stick to help him walk because he has a limp from getting shot in the right thigh while working as a private contractor for the U.S. Defense Department in Afghanistan in 2011.
Jurors saw some of Robertson’s vitriolic posts on social media before and after the Capitol riot. In a Facebook post on Nov. 7, 2020, Robertson said “being disenfranchised by fraud is my hard line.”
“I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting a counter insurgency. (I’m) about to become part of one, and a very effective one,” he wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi told jurors that Robertson was charged for his actions, not his political beliefs. Wagner also said Robertson should be judged by his actions, not his words.
The town fired Robertson and Fracker after the riot. Rocky Mount is about 25 miles south of Roanoke and has roughly 5,000 residents.
Robertson has been jailed since Cooper ruled in July that he violated the terms of his pretrial release by possessing firearms.
More than 770 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. Over 250 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors.
Robertson’s trial is one of four so far for Capitol riot defendants. Two others had their cases decided by bench trials before the same judge.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden convicted New Mexico elected official Couy Griffin last month of illegally entering restricted Capitol grounds but acquitted him of engaging in disorderly conduct. On Wednesday, McFadden acquitted another New Mexico man, Matthew Martin, of all four charges that he faced.