Today, was yet another day of setbacks for the prosecution,as the government dismissed charges against three more J20 defendants. In another J20 trial, a jury acquitted defendant Cathseigh Webber of all charges after less than two days of deliberations.
Last week, after it was revealed that the prosecution failed to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense, the US Attorney’s Office dropped charges against seven defendants set to stand trial on May 29 and June 4.
An additional group of three defendants that had been set to stand stand trial on May 29 had their charges reduced to four misdemeanors, including conspiracy to riot. Given the intentional nature of the withholding of evidence and the government’s inability to explain why Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff had made objectively false statements to Chief Judge Robert Morin, Chief Judge Morin sanctioned the government by dismissing with prejudice the conspiracy to riot charge for all ten defendants.
With the three defendants facing only misdemeanor counts, they were no longer facing a jury trial and their trial was moved to Monday June 4. However, the prosecution has now dismissed the remaining charges against them.
With defendants being tried in blocks, there are situations where different judges are presented with similar questions and could theoretically make different rulings. As the same time that Chief Judge Morin was sanctioning the government, downstairs another J20 trial was entering into closing arguments. In spite of having the same Brady violation, Judge Knowles allowed the jury to go into deliberation on Friday without having ever ruled on whether to declare a mistrial.
After less than two days of deliberation, the jury reached a partial verdict finding one of the defendants, Cathseigh Webber, not guilty on all counts. Jurors are continuing to deliberate in the case of the remaining three defendants. It’s unclear whether they will continue to deliver verdicts one at a time. Webber, unlike the other three defendants, was not alleged by prosecutors to have participated in property destruction. This brings the total number of acquittals in the J20 trials to seven. So far not a single J20 defendants has been found guilty of any offense by a jury.
There are several other notable occurrences in the J20 trial that began on May 14. A police officer and prosecution witness was photographed wearing a shirt reading “Police Brutality Or Doing What Their Parents Should Have Done.” After he wore the shirt in plain view of defense, he was recalled as a defense witness to be questioned about it. A juror reported to the judge that she had read “Google Jury Nullification” in a bathroom stall at the courthouse. According to the note the juror sent the judge, the juror had googled jury nullification and discussed it with the other members of the jury. Judge Knowles allowed the jury to continue to deliberate. Another juror told Judge Knowles that they had seen on twitter about Chief Judge Morin’s Brady sanctions, which confirmed their intuitions about Assistant US Attorney Kerkhoff being unethical. In spite of Kerkhoff’s objections, Judge Knowles allowed this juror to remain on the jury.
From the initial arrest of 230 people to Kerkhoff’s choice to bring multiple felony charges against nearly 200 people, the government has sought to send a chilling message by using guilt by association to transform protest into a crime. However, Kerkhoff has been dealt defeat after defeat. The first trial ended with all defendants being acquitted. In spite of claiming they would pursue the remaining charges, the US Attorney’s Office dropped charges against all but 59 defendants. Now they have dismissed ten more charges and are faced with one more acquittal.
While the wheels are coming off of Kerkhoff’s prosecution, there is still a jury deciding the fate of three people. And there are still over 40 defendants with trials scheduled as far off October. It is entirely unclear how the events of the last few weeks will impact their cases.
It’s important to continue showing solidarity with all the remaining defendants and to demand all the charges be dropped and Kerkhoff be meaningful held accountable.