Guilty: Jury quickly convicts Capitol rioter who blamed Trump for January 6. A judge ordered him behind bars before sentencing.

Dustin Thompson
Dustin ThompsonFBI
  • A judge ordered Dustin Thompson detained ahead of his sentencing in July.

  • Thompson relinquished his belt and tie and was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

  • The convicted Capitol rioter faces a potential years-long prison sentence.

A jury found Capitol rioter Dustin Thompson guilty Thursday on charges he obstructed a congressional proceeding and stole a coat tree from a Senate office on January 6, 2021, rejecting a defense argument that attempted to shift blame for the day's violence onto former President Donald Trump.

After just a few hours of deliberations, the jury convicted Thompson, 38, on all six charges he faced in connection with January 6, including obstruction of an official proceeding, trespassing on restricted Capitol grounds, and theft of government property. On the obstruction charge alone, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but he's likely to receive a lighter punishment.

Judge Reggie Walton ordered Thompson detained ahead of his July 20 sentencing, in a decision that appeared to surprise the now-convicted Capitol rioter and his defense lawyer. Walton raised concerns that Thompson posed a flight risk and said that, if released before his sentencing, Americans would wonder, "Why is he still walking free?"

"The inevitable reality is that whether he does time now or does time later, he's got to do time," the judge said.

Walton, a George W. Bush appointee to the federal trial court in Washington, DC, said Thompson "gleefully" took part in the Capitol attack and questioned his candor on the witness stand days earlier, calling his testimony "wholly disingenuous."

"His conduct, in my view, was reprehensible," Walton said.

As Walton spoke, Thompson put his head in his hands. Once Walton stepped down from the bench, Thompson turned over his belt and tie and was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs by a deputy US marshal.

The judge also had harsh words for Trump, delivering a scathing condemnation in which he called the former president a "charlatan."

"You know, I think our democracy is in trouble," Walton said. "Because unfortunately, we have charlatans like our former president, who doesn't in my view really care about democracy, but only about power. And as a result of that, it's tearing this country apart."

In the 15 months since the January 6 attack, the Justice Department has charged nearly 800 alleged participants in the Capitol attack. The Justice Department won convictions in the two previous jury trials, one against a member of the far-right Three Percenters militia, the other against a former police officer.

In a bench trial last week, however, a federal judge issued the first full acquittal in a January 6 case, finding New Mexico engineer Matthew Martin not guilty of four misdemeanor charges.

Thompson's trial tested a defense strategy of connecting the mayhem of January 6 to Trump's incendiary rhetoric at a speech preceding the Capitol attack. During the trial, Thompson's defense lawyer declined to cross-examine several witnesses called by the Justice Department and at times sounded like a prosecutor, calling the Capitol attack "shameful."

Rather than disputing the Justice Department's version of events, Shamansky asked jurors to consider Thompson's mindset on January 6 after months of unemployment and isolation amid the pandemic. Thompson took the stand in his own defense and testified that he felt he was following "presidential orders" on January 6.

His wife, Sarah Thompson, also took the stand as part of his defense and recounted how he spent 2020 watching "conspiracy theory-type" videos online and came to believe the 2020 election had been stolen from Trump.

Before the jury retreated for deliberations, Shamansky played a video of Trump's speech on January 6, in which he told a crowd of supporters: "We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore," he said.

In his closing argument Thursday, Shamansky referred to Trump as a "gangster" who manipulated Thompson into a pawn in an assault on American democracy.

"You had, frankly, a gangster who was in power," Shamansky said.

Prosecutors alleged that Thompson traveled from Ohio to Washinton, DC, with a friend in January 6 to attend a Trump rally scheduled for January 6. After listening to Trump's speech, prosecutors said, Thompson and his friend Robert Lyon walked to the Capitol, where they became separated.

Lyons was also charged in connection with January 6 and pleaded guilty weeks before Thompson's trial. In court, prosecutors displayed text messages between the two, including one from Thompson stating, "I'm taking our country back."

In another message, Thompson's wife texted the two a screenshot of Trump's address urging the Capitol rioters to go home.

"I will not post bail," she wrote.

"Maybe don't send incriminating shit to my phone," Lyons replied, adding that his phone "might get warranted."

Thompson entered the Capitol and reached the Senate parliamentarian's office, where he stole a coat tree and a bottle of liquor, prosecutors said. While en route to the Capitol, Thompson said he found a tactical vest by a garbage can and put it on.

Prosecutors pointed to the vest as evidence that Thompson walked to the Capitol expecting violence. And, in the cross-examination of Thompson and closing arguments, prosecutors pushed back against Thompson's attempt to shift blame onto Trump.

"President Trump did not hold his hand as he went to the Capitol to loot and defile the Senate parliamentarian's office," prosecutor William Dreher said.

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