WASHINGTON — Jurors began hearing opening statements Tuesday in the trial of a former Virginia police officer charged with storming the U.S. Capitol with a fellow officer who could be a key witness for federal prosecutors.
The federal judge presiding over former Rocky Mount police officer Thomas Robertson's trial in Washington, D.C., questioned prospective jurors for several hours on Monday and again on Tuesday. Twelve jurors and two alternates were selected.
Two other Capitol riot defendants already have been tried on federal charges arising from the Jan. 6, 2021, siege. The first two trials both ended with convictions, although a judge acquitted one of those defendants of a disorderly conduct charge.
One of Robertson’s former colleagues, Jacob Fracker, also was arrested on riot-relate charges. Fracker pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, the joint session of Congress to certify President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Fracker agreed to cooperate with authorities and is listed as a potential trial witness.
Robertson is charged with six counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, civil disorder, entering and remaining in a restricted building and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building.
Robertson and Fracker both served as police officers in Rocky Mount. The town, which is about 25 miles south of Roanoke and has roughly 5,000 residents, fired both of them after their arrests.
Robertson and Fracker drove with a neighbor to Washington on the morning of Jan. 6. Robertson brought three gas masks for them to use, according to prosecutors. After listening to speeches near the Washington Monument, Fracker, Robertson and the neighbor walked toward the Capitol, donned the gas masks and joined the growing mob, prosecutors said. Robertson used a large wooden stick to impede police officers who were trying to hold off the mob, according to prosecutors.
Defense attorney Mark Rollins has said Robertson was inside the Capitol for only 10 minutes and didn’t assault anybody or break anything.
Robertson has been jailed since U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper ruled in July that he violated the terms of his pretrial release by possessing firearms.
Robertson’s trial will be the first for somebody accused of entering the Capitol building during the riot.
On March 8, a jury decided the first Capitol riot trial by convicting a Texas man, Guy Reffitt, of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun. In the second trial, a judge who heard testimony without a jury convicted New Mexico county official Couy Griffin of illegally entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds but acquitted him of engaging in disorderly conduct.
Reffitt and Griffin entered restricted areas outside the Capitol but not the building itself.