An elected official from New Mexico went to trial with a judge—not a jury—set to decide if he is guilty of charges that he illegally entered the US Capitol grounds on the day a pro-Trump mob disrupted the certification of Joe Biden's presidential election victory. US District Judge Trevor McFadden is scheduled to hear attorneys' closing arguments Tuesday for the case against Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, whose trial in Washington, DC, is the second among the hundreds of people charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, siege. (The first ended in Guy Wesley Reffitt being found guilty on all counts.) The judge heard testimony Monday from three government witnesses. Griffin's lawyer said he doesn't plan to call any defense witnesses, the AP reports.
The case against Griffin is unlike most of the Capitol riot prosecutions. He is one of the few riot defendants who isn't accused of entering the Capitol or engaging in any violent or destructive behavior. Smith said prosecutors apparently believe Griffin engaged in disorderly conduct by peacefully leading a prayer on the Capitol steps. “That is offensive and wrong,” Smith told the judge during his brief opening statements. Griffin claims he has been selectively prosecuted for his political views. Griffin, one of three members of the Otero County Commission in southern New Mexico, is among a handful of riot defendants who either held public office or ran for a government leadership post in the 2 1/2 years before the attack. He is among only three riot defendants who have asked for a bench trial, which means a judge will decide his case without a jury.
Griffin, a 48-year-old former rodeo rider and pastor, helped found a political committee called Cowboys for Trump. He had vowed to arrive at the courthouse on horseback. Instead, he showed up Monday as a passenger in a pickup truck that had a horse trailer on the back. Griffin is charged with two misdemeanors: entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds. A key question in Griffin’s case is whether he entered a restricted area outside the Capitol while Pence was still present on Capitol grounds, a prerequisite for the US Secret Service to invoke access restrictions. In a court filing, prosecutors called Griffin "an inflammatory provocateur and fabulist who engages in racist invective and propounds baseless conspiracy theories, including that Communist China stole the 2020 Presidential Election."
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