A Texas man on Thursday pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon in the Jan. 6 riots and potentially avoiding decades in prison after federal prosecutors lost sight of his case for months.
The government has 30 days to charge an arrested person. But prosecutors admit they lost sight of his case among hundreds of others from the Capitol riot after Lucas Denney’s arrest in December.
Denney was not charged until 85 days after his arrest, after his lawyers requested his release from prison in early March. Prosecutors were able to hastily issue an indictment on a single indictment, which was approved by a grand jury before Denney appeared in court.
Earlier this week, prosecutors conceded the error and moved to drop the charges against Denney so they could return to a grand jury to indict all of the original charges.
But Denney’s attorney, William Shipley, surprised prosecutors and US District Judge Randy Moss when he dropped the motion to dismiss the charges, instead announcing that his client intended to plead guilty.
Shipley said Monday that he hoped the quick plea of guilty to the only charge of assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon would deter the government from pursuing a grand jury indictment on the other charges Denney was arrested on.
“I don’t trust them to run to the grand jury again and try to escape the trap they built for themselves,” Shipley said.
Denney is accused of confronting police in the Capitol, swinging a metal bar at an officer and throwing several objects at police after recruiting others to travel to Washington equipped for a fight. He was arrested on eight counts, including conspiracy.
US Atty. Jennifer Rozzoni wrote in a filing Monday morning that, barring the seditious conspiracy charges against 11 Oath Keepers, these are “the most serious felonies charged in connection with the attack on the Capitol.”
Denney rocked on his feet and rolled his neck as he listened as the judge read the indictment and asked if he was aware that his guilty plea waived his right to a trial and that the government still has more serious charges could raise against him.
“Yes sir,” Denney said. “I understand you, sir.”
It’s not clear that the plea will prevent additional charges, as Shipley claimed.
Judge Moss said there could be an argument that adding more charges later would violate Denney’s protections from being tried twice for the same crime, also known as double jeopardy, but stressed that the government is likely to see more charges would raise against Denney. The federal circuit courts are divided as to whether such a situation constitutes a double jeopardy and the District of Columbia Circuit Court has not ruled.
“You have no guarantees that the government will not pursue additional charges against you,” Moss said.
“Currently, the government has not made that decision,” Rozzoni said on Thursday.
Moss said Monday he was concerned Denney would make a rushed decision that could see years behind bars and delayed Denney’s arraignment until prosecutors and the defense could provide sentencing recommendations. Denney’s attorneys suggested 41 to 51 months in prison. Prosecutors asked for 57 to 71 months. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The verdict is scheduled for June 9th.
Federal law also sets a 70-day period for a trial to begin once a person is charged, although a judge can stop that clock at the request of the prosecution or defense. The clock has stopped in hundreds of cases from Jan. 6 as the federal government rushes to process an overwhelming amount of digital evidence into a database.
Of the more than 775 defendants as of Jan. 6, most have pleaded guilty or are on bail. But the 65 or so who are being held pending trial, some for over a year, are increasingly urging their trials to begin. Many of the defendants, who are being held without attachment, are charged with committing violent attacks on the police or conspiring to organize the storming of the Capitol.
The only defendant to have completed a jury trial so far, Guy Reffitt, a member of the Texas Three Percenter militia group, was found guilty last week on all charges, including obstructing an official proceeding and carrying a firearm while unlawfully on the grounds of the Capitol.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-03-17/judge-decides-if-jan-6-defendant-can-plead-guilty-after-prosecutors-forgot-to-indict-him January 6 defendant pleads guilty to one charge in forgotten case