WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday convicted an elected official from New Mexico of illegally entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds but acquitted him of engaging in disorderly conduct during the riot that disrupted Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.
U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden heard one day of testimony without a jury on Monday before handing down a verdict in the misdemeanor case against Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, a 48-year-old former rodeo rider who helped found a group called Cowboys for Trump.
McFadden, an appointee of then-President Donald Trump, said there was ample evidence that Griffin knew he was in a restricted area and didn’t leave. Griffin crossed over three walls, needing help from others or a ladder to get over them, the judge noted.
“All of this would suggest to a normal person that perhaps you should not be entering the area,” McFadden said from the bench.
But the judge said prosecutors didn’t meet their burden to prove that Griffin engaged in disorderly conduct.
“Arguably, he was trying to calm people down, not rile them up,” he said.
Griffin’s trial in Washington, D.C., was the second among the hundreds of federal cases arising from the Jan. 6, 2021, siege. Earlier this month, in the first trial, a jury convicted a Texas man, Guy Wesley Reffitt, of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun, interfering with police and obstructing Congress’ joint session to certify the Electoral College vote.
The outcome of Griffin’s trial could have a ripple effect, helping other Capitol riot defendants decide whether to let a judge or a jury decide their case.
But the case against Griffin is unlike most Jan. 6 cases and may not be a bellwether for defendants who are charged with storming the Capitol.
Griffin is one of the few riot defendants who wasn’t accused of entering the Capitol building or engaging in any violent or destructive behavior. His lawyers argued that he was selectively prosecuted for his political views.
Griffin was charged with two misdemeanors: entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds. Both carry maximum sentences of one year imprisonment.
Griffin is scheduled to be sentenced on June 17.