Plea talks between the Justice Department and some defendants in the Capitol riot cases are still in the works, two court proceedings made clear on Thursday.
The acknowledgment of discussions came in a high-profile case of a man caught on video chasing a police officer as the pro-Trump crowd sought out the inner chambers of Congress, and in a case of a man caught on video standing atop a wall outside the Capitol building. They’re the latest indication that while the Capitol riot cases could begin moving through the court system, the approach behind the scenes is still slow to progress.
Douglas Jensen, an Iowan who wore a QAnon T-shirt to the riot and faces seven charges, is in talks with the Justice Department to bring an end to his case, prosecutors and his defense attorney revealed at a court hearing. But they said they need a few more weeks.
“There are a few matters from the defense side that we need to work out before we ultimately resolve this case,” Jensen’s attorney Christopher Davis said. “And I can represent to the court that this is moving along with an eye towards disposition. We’re just ironing out wrinkles.”
Prosecutors noted at a brief court appearance for Jensen on Thursday morning they had a “substantial” amount of video evidence and his cellphone data. Jensen awaits further court proceedings in jail, and has his next court hearing set for early May.
He told the court he was not guilty in late February. His attorney declined to comment further outside of court.
In a second case on Thursday, prosecutors and the attorney for defendant Kash Kelly wrote in a filing that they are making an “attempt to reach a prompt non-trial resolution of the case.” Kelly’s lawyer is in talks with prosecutors for a resolution, the filing added.
Kelly is charged with two misdemeanor counts of being on restricted grounds of the Capitol. He had posted a photo on Facebook after the riot showing him standing next to a statute in the Capitol, the FBI said in a sworn affidavit, and video caught him waving an American flag on a wall outside. Kelly was a longtime cooperator in a federal conspiracy case against the Latin Kings gang, and was sentenced to four years in prison about a month after the Capitol riot, according to federal court records.
CNN reported on March 12 that prosecutors said they expected plea deals to be offered to some insurrection defendants within weeks.
But the Capitol riot-related criminal cases – now counting well above 300 – have been slow-moving because of the sheer volume of video, messaging and other evidence prosecutors have collected; the strains the onslaught of cases have put on the court system; delays in transferring imprisoned defendants to Washington, DC, from their home states; and the delayed confirmation of Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Many of the defendants are likely to ultimately plead guilty and avoid a trial – especially given that national statistics consistently show very small numbers of federal criminal defendants opting for trials. Trials that do take place could be months or even more than a year away, people briefed on the investigation have told CNN.
The downsides of going to trial – including stress, financial burden, negative attention and the discomfort of waiting in jail – as well as the strength of evidence prosecutors have gathered often persuade defendants to accept charges and head to sentencing.