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Federal prosecutors lose another case in the #J20 witch-hunt

Another anti-Trump protester acquitted on six charges, and a mistrial on the seventh he faced.

Police fill the streets of downtown Washington, D.C. on the afternoon of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration  on January 20, 2017. (CREDIT: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Police fill the streets of downtown Washington, D.C. on the afternoon of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration on January 20, 2017. (CREDIT: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal prosecutors continued their losing streak Wednesday in the ongoing mass trials of anti-Trump protesters arrested in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day.

Jurors found another defendant, Seth Cadman, not guilty on six felony separate charges including conspiracy to riot and multiple counts of malicious destruction of property. Jurors further refused to convict Cadman of lesser misdemeanor versions of two of the destruction of property charges tied to smashed windows at a Starbucks and a Bank of America branch.

Cadman stood hand in hand with his two co-defendants, the trio giving each other little squeezes each of the eight total times the foreperson answered “not guilty” to the judge.

But the panel was deadlocked on a seventh charge, “engaging in a riot,” after several days of deliberations. Judge Kimberly Knowles declared a mistrial on that charge, which prosecutors may still pursue if they choose later this summer.

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Wednesday’s defeat is a more significant setback for the prosecution than prior acquittals. This trio of defendants are the first who the government said it could prove individually broke windows or scrapped with police on the day. The jury did not believe the government’s evidence that Cadman had struck out in anger on January 20, 2017.

Supporters and attorneys for the acquitted man celebrated in the hallway outside Courtroom 203. But two others in this trial group — and more than 40 additional people whose trials have not yet begun — remain in legal limbo in the case.

It’s been a dramatic two weeks for the high-profile #J20 trials. Last Thursday, lead prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff revealed she had hidden more than 60 separate recordings of a pre-protest training camp from both the court and the defense attorneys in the several separate cases, prompting another judge to dismiss the government’s conspiracy case with prejudice. Ten of the defendants the government had claimed it could prove were key conspirators were suddenly free to go that day.

The pending trials scheduled for later in the summer and fall will likely be affected by Kerkhoff’s withholding of video evidence, though exactly how remains to be seen. Judge Knowles said Wednesday that she would wait for “Chief Judge Morin [to] tell me how to proceed” ahead of a future-scheduled hearing on the remaining misdemeanor charge jurors could not resolve.

Earlier Wednesday, the attorney for one of the defendants on whom jurors have yet to reach consensus sought a mistrial across the board in light of concerns that the panel might feel pressured to rush their deliberations.

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A juror reported Wednesday morning that she had grown anxious about how long deliberations are taking because she has plans to travel outside of D.C. on June 8th. She had notified the court of that scheduling issue during jury selection, and received repeated assurances that she could go ahead with her plans. In the note, she reported that she has since invested further significant sums in preparing for the trip, and would face a serious financial loss if the court forced her to cancel her trip. She asked the court for “one final assurance” that she’d be allowed to travel regardless of the status of the case.

The concerned note came from the same juror who announced before deliberations began that she had googled the phrase “jury nullification” after seeing graffitied instructions to do so in a courthouse bathroom. The note prompted one defense lawyer to move for the juror to be replaced with an alternate, which would force the jury to begin deliberations from scratch. The judge disagreed.

Either side could credibly fear that the situation might prejudice the eventual outcome of the currently-deadlocked panel. If the time-pressured juror is currently a holdout — for either a conviction or an acquittal — then her perception that she needs the case to wrap up fast could give her reason to cave to the other jurors even if she still disagrees with them.

No jury poll has been conducted to date, sources said, so it is impossible to know either the nature or the size of the disagreements that have deadlocked the jury since Tuesday afternoon.

This is a breaking news item and has been updated to add new information and to clarify the number and nature of the verdicts reached.