Guilty: Cowboys for Trump' founder Couy Griffin convicted in the second January 6 trial

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Otero County Commission member and Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin rides his horse on 5th avenue on May 1, 2020 in New York City.Jeenah Moon/Getty Images
  • The verdict gave the Department of Justice a second win in as many trials connected to the US Capitol attack.

  • The trial set the stage for the Secret Service confirming Mike Pence's location on January 6.

  • Griffin was acquitted on a disorderly conduct charge but found guilty of trespassing on restricted grounds.

A federal judge found "Cowboys for Trump" leader Couy Griffin guilty of a misdemeanor charge connected to the Capitol attack, handing the Justice Department a victory in the second trial stemming from the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

Judge Trevor McFadden handed down the verdict Tuesday after federal prosecutors presented video footage showing Griffin, a New Mexico county commissioner, climbing a bike ramp and ascending a makeshift plywood ramp on his approach to the Capitol.

Griffin faces up to a year in prison on the misdemeanor charge of trespassing on restricted Capitol grounds. The judge set his sentencing for June 17.

McFadden acquitted Griffin on a separate disorderly conduct charge, which also carried a maximum sentence of a year in prison.

Griffin, 48, elected to have a judge — rather than a jury — review the evidence and decide his fate. The so-called bench trial featured testimony on Monday from a videographer who accompanied Griffin to Washington, DC, in early January 2021, along with a Capitol police inspector and Secret Service agent.

Outside the courthouse, Griffin said he was "halfway pleased" with the verdict, and described the experience of standing trial in federal court as a "real honor."

"I respect the decision that Judge McFadden made today, even though it wasn't the decision that I was really hoping and praying for. You have to continue to trust in our judges and our system. He found me guilty for crossing into a restricted area, and I was there on that day," Griffin said.

Griffin stood by his decision to request a bench trial and said other January 6 defendants would have "to pray through it and make that decision as well.

"If I was anywhere but Washington, DC, I would say go with a jury trial," Griffin said.

"You're putting all your eggs in one basket, where on a jury trial you've got 12 baskets up there," he added.

The Justice Department charged Griffin on January 16, 2021 — 10 days after the Capitol attack — with disorderly conduct and trespassing on restricted grounds. On Monday and in the lead-up to trial, Griffin argued that the Justice Department could not prove he was aware on January 6, 2021 that the grounds surrounding the Capitol were restricted.

His defense lawyer, Nicholas Smith, also pressed an argument that the Capitol grounds were no longer restricted when Griffin entered because then-Vice President Mike Pence had been rushed away to safety amid the mayhem of January 6. Over the Justice Department's objection, McFadden allowed Smith to question a Secret Service agent about Pence's precise location.

The strategy appeared to backfire against Griffin — and set the stage for a remarkable courtroom moment.

On Monday, Secret Service inspector Lanelle Hawa confirmed that Pence fled the Senate chamber to a loading dock beneath the Capitol, where the former vice president stayed for several hours.

The testimony marked the government's first public acknowledgment of Pence's whereabouts as a pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol on January 6, with some calling for the sitting president to be hanged. Hawa affirmed that the underground loading dock fell within the Secret Service protected zone around the Capitol on January 6.

For Griffin, that testimony created a need to show that he was unaware that the area was off-limits when he approached the Capitol. His lawyer, Smith, used the questioning of Capitol Police Inspector John Erickson to show that temporary, plastic "snow fencing" was no longer upright when Griffin advanced toward the inauguration stage, and that the walls he scaled on January 6 lacked signage indicating the area was closed.

But McFadden pointed to a video Griffin filmed outside the Capitol on January 5, 2021, with the snow fencing and signage behind him. The judge said Griffin saw the west front of the Capitol with "multiple rings" of snow fencing on January 5 and needed help from others, or a jerry-rigged ramp, to cross over "three different walls."

"All of this would suggest to a normal person that perhaps you should not be entering the area," McFadden said.

In her closing argument Tuesday morning, prosecutor Janani Iyengar said "any reasonable person" would have known that the area around the Capitol was closed to the public on January 6.

"The defendant was entering an area knowing that area was restricted to the public, and he entered it anyway," she said.

Iyengar put Griffin's conduct in the broader context of January 6, saying it jeopardized Pence's safety.

"The mere presence of people in that restricted area created a security issue for the vice president. That's the reason the vice president had to evacuate," she said.

At one point, McFadden pressed Iyengar about whether someone could be prosecuted for having to jump over the stone wall — a permanent fixture outside the Capitol – to retrieve a hat blown off their head.

Iyengar stressed that Griffin didn't jump back over the fence but instead remained on the grounds and advanced toward the Capitol, eventually reaching the inauguration stage. Griffin, she said, used a metal bike rack as a ladder to climb over one of the stone walls outside the Capitol.

On the disorderly conduct charge, Iyengar conceded that — if Griffin had simply walked through the area— "we would be having a very different conversation."

"But that's not the scenario we're in with this defendant," Iyengar said, noting that Griffin spoke into a bullhorn, climbed over barricades, and encouraged others to be armed.

Griffin's conviction came just weeks after a jury found Guy Reffitt, a member of the far-right Three Percenters militia, guilty in the first trial involving charges linked to the January 6 insurrection. The jury returned the verdict after just hours of deliberation, finding Reffitt guilty of all five charges he faced, including carrying a firearm on the Capitol grounds.

Reffitt's trial featuredemotional testimony from his teenage son and from Capitol police officers who recalled their encounter with him on January 6. For the Justice Department, the conviction marked a significant first trial victory out of the nearly 800 cases that have stemmed from the Capitol attack.

Read the original article on Business Insider