Defendant Lashes Out From Witness Stand During Proud Boys Trial
A defendant in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy case lashed out at prosecutors from the witness stand on Thursday, attacking them for conducting what he described as a “corrupt trial” marred by “fake charges.”
The outburst by the defendant, Dominic Pezzola, came during testimony that was meant to humanize him for the jury but seemed instead to expose his combative nature. In a tense back-and-forth with a prosecutor, Mr. Pezzola — who was among the first rioters to enter the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — also sought to play down the violence of that day, saying that the crowd that forced its way into the building was not “an invading force,” but merely “trespassing protesters.”
The angry testimony emerged as the trial — now in its fourth month in Federal District Court in Washington — was finally winding down. Each of the defendants rested as the day came to an end on Thursday. Closing arguments could begin as early as Friday.
A former Marine and a veteran boxer, Mr. Pezzola first took the witness stand on Tuesday, telling the jury that he wanted to testify — always a risky gamble — “to take responsibility for my actions on Jan. 6.”
He quickly fell on his sword, insisting that any acts of violence he took part in that day, he committed on his own and that his co-defendants — Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl — “should not be roped into” his “actions.”
Among the five men on trial, Mr. Pezzola was arguably the most violent on Jan. 6, scuffling with a police officer in the crowd outside the Capitol and ultimately making off with his plastic riot shield. After Mr. Pezzola used the shield to smash a window at the building, he rushed inside with the first wave of rioters and took a video of himself smoking what he described as a “victory” cigar.
He sought to explain all of this to the jury by claiming that his military training as an infantryman had simply kicked in at a moment of high stress.
“In a situation like this,” he said on Wednesday, “total saturation of adrenaline enters your body — almost like being on autopilot.”
Well before the trial began, the defense had promised a robust case rebutting the government’s claims that the five Proud Boys had committed sedition by forcibly disrupting the certification of the 2020 election that was taking place inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
It seemed at first as if all of the defendants might testify, but after several other defense witnesses — including some Proud Boys who were not charged in the case — struggled during cross-examination, the defense lawyers scaled back their ambitions, and only Mr. Pezzola and Mr. Rehl decided to take the stand.
Mr. Rehl testified for two days last week and two days this week, telling the jury that even though he was a leader with the Proud Boys — he once ran the group’s Philadelphia chapter — he was unaware of any plans to storm the Capitol or to disrupt the certification of the election.
His lawyer, Carmen Hernandez, also sought to portray him as the least aggressive of the five defendants, getting him to testify repeatedly that he never broke anything or hurt anyone during the riot. The gambit seemed to work, at least until Mr. Rehl reacted testily to a newly found video the government played for the jury that showed someone who resembled him apparently shooting some sort of spray at the police.
Mr. Pezzola’s testimony followed a similar trajectory.
When he first took the stand, he echoed Mr. Rehl’s contention that the Proud Boys could not be guilty of conspiracy because they had no plan on Jan. 6.
“Our only plans,” he said, joking about the group’s well-known taste for alcohol, “were maybe to storm the liquor store.”
But Mr. Pezzola seemed to lose his cool under questions from Erik Kenerson, one of the prosecutors on the case. Their clash began when Mr. Kenerson led Mr. Pezzola through a series of questions about his belief in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 that “civil war was imminent” and that there was a “battle” afoot “between good and evil.”
“You thought the other side was trying to destroy your way of life?” Mr. Kenerson asked.
“It’s not a thought; it was a fact,” Mr. Pezzola responded. “They were attacking us daily.”
Then Mr. Kenerson pushed a little further.
“You wanted to stand first on the line to protect who you love and what you stand for?” he asked.
Mr. Pezzola answered with an angry retort.
“That’s correct,” he said, “but that’s in line with standing against this corrupt trial with your fake charges.”
Minutes earlier, the two men had gone at each other in a similar manner when Mr. Kenerson read the jury a passage from Mr. Pezzola’s diary. In the quoted portion, Mr. Pezzola was complaining about government restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic and how he felt his family and his country were under attack from “radical socialists.”
“I’m just starting to see success with my business,” Mr. Pezzola, who owns a floor tiling company, wrote. “But now it’s being threatened with unconstitutional lockdowns and a tyrannical government.”
Mr. Pezzola responded to the passage being read aloud by calling the proceeding “a fake trial.”
“You’ve got a lot of opinions, don’t you?” Mr. Kenerson shot back.
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