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The Proud Boys jury hasn’t even been seated yet, and the defense already says it’s biased

Accused Proud Boys Zachary Rehl, left, and Ethan Nordean, on Jan. 6, 2021 at the CapitolPhiladelphia Proud Boys leader Zachary Rehl, left, and Washington State Proud Boys leader Ethan Nordean, attend the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

  • The Proud Boys sedition-trial jury will be picked Monday, out of a pre-vetted pool of DC residents.
  •  Most in the pool hold negative views of the extremist group, but all have promised to be fair.
  • Defense lawyers get just 12 challenges total, and are already braced for an ‘unfair, partial jury.’

On Monday, 12 jurors will be seated in the Proud Boys sedition trial out of a carefully-vetted pool of about 45 DC residents, all of whom have promised to be fair.

Still, most of the people in that pool expressed strong negative views of the anti-goverment extremist group during two weeks of initial jury selection, including some who called the group racist, violent, anti-Semitic and a threat to both democracy and national security.

While such views are widely shared by the public and extremism experts — both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Council call the Proud Boys a violent, right-wing hate group — defense lawyers for the trial’s five defendants are already convinced that given this pool and the trial’s DC location, the jury chosen Monday won’t be fair.

Former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and four of his top lieutenants are charged with seditious conspiracy for allegedly masterminding the group’s plot to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and block Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results.

The defense teams plan to make one last-ditch venue-change motion immediately after the jurors are seated, according to a person familiar with their strategy.

“The judge had already denied the defense venue-change motions on the theory that they will be able to sit a fair jury,” said the person, who Insider provided anonymity to so they could speak on the record.

“They’re going to make that argument again,” as soon as the 12 jurors and four alternates are seated on Monday, the person added. “They’ll tell the judge, ‘Now that we’ve seen the jury, this is ridiculous.'” 

Defense lawyers will ask one last time to move the case out of politics-obsessed District of Columbia, away from what they see as a jury pool hopelessly tainted by the recent televised hearings of the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack — and by having lived through the attack itself.

It’s a request they’ve made in court and in legal filings for months, and which the trial judge, US District Judge Timothy J. Kelly, has repeatedly rejected.

He’ll almost certainly turn thumbs-down on a venue change again on Monday, predicted Ross Suter, a Philadelphia-based jury consultant with Magna Legal Services, a litigation consulting and jury research company.

“It’s not surprising that these potential jurors knew something about the Proud Boys and January 6th, particularly since they live in DC,” Suter told Insider.

“But generally what we see is that jurors want to do the right thing. And the judge is going to instruct them and they’re going to do their best to follow those instructions,” he said.

That’s true in any case with a notorious defendant like former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, or George Floyd murderer Derek Chauvin, Suter noted.

In New York last month, jurors worked hard to remain impartial while weighing criminal evidence involving the highly-polarizing former president Donald Trump, during the tax-fraud trial of his business, the Trump Organization.

Even in Trump-unfriendly Manhattan — where just 12 percent voted for the former president — jurors said they strove to set aside any personal biases, notably referring to Trump as “Bob Smith” to remind themselves he must be treated like any other businessman.

“Juries historically take their responsibility seriously,” Suter said.

“We’re talking about somebody potentially going to jail for a significant amount of time, so they try to do the right thing. And the judge will instruct them about remaining impartial throughout the trial.” 

Nevertheless, the defense teams for Tarrio and co-defendants Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Dominic Pezzola are braced to assume the worst about the jury to be seated Monday.

“Mr. Rehl objects to the continued qualification of jurors who have expressed prejudiced views toward the Proud Boys and the allegations underlying the charges,” his lawyer, Carmen Hernandez, wrote the judge four days before Christmas.

Those views included “preconceived beliefs that the Proud Boys are a ‘dangerous armed group,’ a ‘hate filled group,’ ‘racists,’ and other clearly biased views followed by assertions that they nonetheless can be fair.”

She added, “Moreover, were a jury panel seated with so many persons who have expressed preconceived unduly prejudicial views of the defendants, even if singly they could abide by their intent to remain impartial, once placed together in one jury it is difficult to see how their prejudices will not resurface and reinforce each other, resulting in an unfair, partial jury.” 

Defense lawyers are very likely spending the weekend pouring over any public records on the 45 or so prospects in the pool, Suter said.

With only a total of 12 chances to strike or reject individual jurors — federal prosecutors can strike 10 — the defense will want those strikes to be well-researched, Suter said.

“Both sides are going to be looking into the backgrounds of these folks, their experiences, opinions, and beliefs. Absent the court admonishing them not to, I’d be surprised if they’re all not doing some type of deep dive this weekend.” 

Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday. The trial is expected to last through mid-February. 

Read the original article on Business Insider
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