By Holmes Lybrand
The third January 6-related trial began in earnest Tuesday in Washington, DC, with opening statements in the case of Thomas Robertson, an ex-police officer in Virginia who faces six charges for his alleged actions during the attack including violent entry into the US Capitol, obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with evidence.
During their opening statements, prosecutors cited online posts Robertson allegedly wrote a month before the attack where he called for an “opened armed rebellion.”
“The defendant made good on that promise,” assistant US attorney Elizabeth Aloi told the jury, saying that Robertson used a large stick to impede officers who were called in as back up during the riot.
Robertson, a former officer for the Rocky Mount Police Department in Rocky Mount, Virginia, was off-duty when he, along with a fellow officer, Jacob Fracker, and Robertson’s neighbor went to the Capitol that day, prosecutors say.
Fracker pleaded guilty in March to one count of conspiracy after striking a plea deal with the government, agreeing to cooperate in the case against Robertson. He faces up to five years in jail for his actions that day and is set to testify in the trial.
According to prosecutors, Robertson left his police badge and firearm in his car near a metro stop on January 6, 2021, and instead brought gas masks and a stick. Prosecutors say they will show police body-cam footage of Robertson’s use of the stick, allegedly blocking police, during the trial.
In their opening statement, the defense, referring to Robertson as “TJ,” said that the stick was simply a walking stick he used because of a limp he suffers after being shot in the right thigh on a deployment in Afghanistan as a private contractor years before.
According to the defense, the stick was “stuck in front of a police officer” who then kicked the stick off him, adding that Robertson was not trying to hurt the officer.
The defense said that Robertson only went into the Capitol to retrieve his “supposed friend” Fracker, who they say had run in ahead of him.
“TJ knew he was not supposed to be there,” defense attorney Camille Wagner told the jury. Wagner also said that Robertson should not be judged by what he wrote online because “social media is not reality” and repeated that the “walking stick was just for that, for walking.”
After being initially released following his arrest in January 2021, Robertson was re-arrested and held in detention after he allegedly began stockpiling weapons and posting about future political violence on online message boards.
Investigators say they learned he had bought 37 guns on the internet following his initial arrest and found bomb-making material in his home, all in violation of his conditions of release, prosecutors say.
On Monday, Judge Christopher Cooper, along with the defense and prosecution, sifted through a potential pool of 75 jurors, asking them questions about January 6, where they were that day and how they felt about the attack.
“I was driving home on January 6,” one potential juror said during individual interviews. “So I saw some of what was happening. Mostly I was just outraged that people would come here” and riot.
Whenever January 6 comes up, “I find myself quite worked up,” another juror told the court.
“People obviously have very strong views on January 6,” Cooper said Monday, adding that that alone was not a basis for a juror not to serve on the trial. “We are here to assess the innocence or guilt of one person.”
Other jurors said they worked at or near the Capitol. One person, a legislative director for a congresswoman, told the court she knew people who were working at the Capitol that day.
“A number of my colleagues have sought counseling” in the wake of January 6, she said, adding, however, that she believed she could judge the case on its own merits.
Three jurors were removed from the pool after telling the judge they couldn’t look at Robertson’s case objectively.
“I really felt bad about what happened at the Capitol,” one man said, adding that he believed anyone who went into the building that day was in the wrong. “It wouldn’t be fair to him.”
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