Federal Judge Amit Mehta, who is handling the now ongoing seditious conspiracy trial tied to the Capitol riot against members of the far-right, anti-government militia the Oath Keepers, denied multiple last-minute attempts to evade justice by members of the group this Monday.
Mehta denied a request by defendant Kelly Meggs for a bench trial, meaning his guilt would be decided by a judge (presumably or at least potentially Mehta), although Meggs was evidently the only co-defendant at the trial where opening arguments were starting Monday who asked for that change at such a late stage. Mehta also denied a defense motion for a change of venue, which is something attempted on the defense side before. At the earlier point when such a request came up, Mehta undercut the idea that the change that was sought would even be effective, since the locale in Virginia to which the move was requested is very close to D.C. “Voir dire has done its job… It’s absolutely done its job,” Mehta said this week, referring to the process of jury selection. “We are certainly not delaying this jury trial.”
As summarized by CBS reporter Rob Legare, Mehta pointed out the late timing of Meggs’s request for a bench trial and that legal precedent established by the U.S. Supreme Court makes jury trials a norm. As for the motion to change the locale where the trial is happening, Mehta indicated confidence that jurors would follow provided instructions, including regarding avoiding certain forms of media coverage. “My sense is this is a very diligent group of citizens who will abide by the court’s instructions,” Mehta said. He also argued on Monday that “not a single one of them” showed preconceived bias. Attempts at moving a riot case out of D.C. have previously come up, without much more success than what the Oath Keepers are obtaining here. In a July instance dealt with by federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson in which a Florida man affiliated with the Proud Boys wanted his trial moved, the judge quoted Anthony Bourdain in defending D.C. residents.
Jackson said Garcia’s actions were “largely predicated on sweeping, unsupported assertions about a city he does not appear to know or understand.” Quoting Bourdain, Jackson added: “The people we see working here on our television screens, in the halls of power, and the plush seats of Sunday morning punditry, often have as little to do with the city itself, and the people who actually live here, as any creatures from another universe. This is a city filled with actual living, breathing, eating Americans. Not vessels for one ideology or another, empty suits and empty ideas. Hard lives, hard struggles, and long roads to get here.” Members of the Oath Keepers assembled weapons in the lead-up to January 6 and prepared for potentially lethal violence. Three people connected to the group already pleaded guilty to a charge of seditious conspiracy. Although the charge sets this trial apart, jury trials for cases from the riot have gone largely in the Justice Department’s favor, meaning convictions on all accusations.