2nd trial begins in Inauguration Day protests, prosecutors to rely on video evidence
By KEITH L. ALEXANDER | The Washington Post | Published: May 16, 2018
WASHINGTON — Five months after a jury acquitted several people charged with rioting during President Donald Trump's inauguration, federal prosecutors seeking to convict another group of defendants say that this time they have video evidence of the defendants vandalizing businesses and other property.
Opening statements in the second trial stemming from the mass arrests on Jan. 20, 2017, are set to begin Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court. Prosecutors allege that the four defendants are among a group that rioted through the streets of downtown Washington smashing storefronts, setting fires and causing other property damage.
In all, 234 people were charged in connection with the Inauguration Day riots. Twenty of those people have pleaded guilty.
The first of the defendants to seek a trial went before a jury last fall, with prosecutors arguing that every protester in the group bore responsibility for the damage, even those who didn't directly participate in the vandalism. After a four-week trial, jurors found those six people, who said they were lawfully protesting, not guilty on felony rioting and conspiracy charges.
The acquittals forced prosecutors to re-examine their remaining cases. In January, the government dismissed cases against 129 people.
The four defendants set to go to trial Wednesday are among 59 whose cases are pending.
In the first trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff told the jury that there was no evidence that those defendants were involved in the rioting. Instead, prosecutors tried to prove that because the six were seen in the group of demonstrators, wearing all black and covering their faces, they were part of a conspiracy and helped protect those who participated in the violence. The jury rejected that argument and sided with defense attorneys, who said their clients were only protesting the inauguration and were not involved in the riots.
This time, prosecutors say they have video evidence that shows the four defendants participating in rioting, though it is not yet clear precisely what the videos show. Each of the four defendants is charged with felony rioting.
The defendants are Michael Basillas, 32, of New York; Seth Cadman, 27, of Virginia Beach; Anthony Felice, 26, of Wilmington Beach, North Carolina, and Casey Webber, 29, of Washington.
On Monday, defense attorneys and prosecutors interviewed dozens of people to find 16 D.C. residents - 12 jurors and four alternates - who can serve on a jury during a trial that is expected to last about three weeks. The panel members were questioned about any biases they might have after seeing media reports on the cases.
In one of the most contentious clashes during the jury selection process, prosecutors said they plan to play a video showing a person they say is one of the defendants burning an American flag. While flag burning is protected speech, prosecutors said they intended to use the video to identify Felice.
Felice's attorney, Matthew Rist, argued the video was prejudicial and had nothing to do with the rioting charges.
Judge Kimberley Knowles, who is overseeing the trial, ruled the video could remain as evidence. Rist then asked the judge to question those in the jury pool about whether they would be biased if they saw a video of someone allegedly burning the American flag as opposed to viewing the action as freedom of speech.
During the first day of jury selection, only one person was dismissed after saying she could not be impartial after seeing such a video.