Virginia seeks new perjury case against Jason Kessler, ‘Unite the Right’ organizer

April 4, 2018 GMT

A judge in Virginia has been asked to retry Jason Kessler, the organizer of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last summer, after dismissing a perjury charge against him on procedural grounds.

Robert Tracci, Virginia’s prosecutor for Albemarle County, has filed a motion seeking a new trial for Mr. Kessler, 34, two weeks after Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins dismissed the commonwealth’s perjury case against him.

Mr. Kessler had been charged in connection with claims he made on a sworn criminal complaint filed with a local magistrate in January, but Judge Higgins ruled last month that the prosecution failed to prove the alleged perjury occurred within Albemarle County and agreed with the defense that the state didn’t adequately establish venue.

“Regardless of how the court resolved errors stemming from its venue determination at trial, the commonwealth is free to prosecute Kessler on the merits of the perjury charge, under the same or a substitute indictment,” Mr. Tracci wrote in Monday’s motion.

“Federal courts have held that failure to prove venue does not bar re-prosecution under a new indictment. Because venue is a procedural matter separate from the guilty or innocence of the defendant, principles of double jeopardy do not bar re-prosecution, even after jeopardy has been attached,” Mr. Tracci added.

“My focus is on finding a malice prosecution attorney who can look into why I’m being subjected to Double Jeopardy,” Mr. Kessler told The Washington Times on Wednesday, adding that he believed Mr. Tracci was taking cues from anti-fascist activist “to punish critics of the Charlottesville government.”

The perjury charge against Mr. Kessler stemmed from an incident that occurred while he petitioned for signatures in downtown Charlottesville about seven months before August’s “Unite the Right” rally.

Mr. Kessler had attested that he was assaulted while collecting signatures, but a subsequent investigation found that he lied about the incident and was actually the aggressor, prompting him to plead guilty to misdemeanor assault.

Mr. Tracci had argued that Mr. Kessler committed perjury when he told the magistrate that he was assaulted, but the judge found that the commonwealth couldn’t prove that Mr. Kessler swore out the statement within its jurisdiction.

State rules give courts jurisdiction over cases for 21 days after their decided, giving Albemarle County Circuit Court until April 10 to decide whether to agree with Mr. Tracci and vacate and modify the March 20 ruling.

Mr. Kessler faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted on the perjury charge dismissed last month.

A local blogger and activist, Mr. Kessler made waves last summer for his involvement in the “Unite the Right” rally after authorities linked the event to three fatalities, including the deaths of two Virginia state troopers and a counterprotester. The event had been billed as a rally held in a support of a Confederate monument slated for removal, but it turned violent and ended early after clashes broke out on the morning of the event between counterprotesters and participants including white nationalists and neo-Nazis.