In the nearly two years since a mob of angry Trump supporters overran and ransacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, authorities have arrested and charged nearly 900 people with various crimes ranging from illegal protesting to seditious conspiracy against the federal government.
The defendants have come from every corner of the nation, but a relative few — only 23 — have ties to Georgia. Sixteen of those have pleaded guilty, and most have already received their punishment in sentences ranging from probation to years in prison.
Of those remaining Georgia defendants, four appear to be headed to federal trial in 2023, and that group includes some of the more high-profile people accused in the sweeping investigation. They include a mother-son duo, a practicing attorney and the defendant believed to be the youngest person charged in the riot.
Milton resident Bruno Cua was 18 when he scrambled up the scaffolding erected on the west side of the Capitol for Joe Biden’s inauguration and joined the mob as it rushed toward the Senate chambers. Surveillance cameras recorded Cua and others scuffling with a plainclothes police officer at the Senate door and other footage shot by journalists caught him in the well of the Senate.
Prosecutors say he had a metal baton with him during the riot, making the charges against him more serious.
Believed to the youngest Jan. 6 defendant so far charged, Cua is scheduled to be the first Georgian to take his case to trial. Barring delays, Cua’s trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 13 in Washington.
Cua’s 12-count indictment includes some of the more severe charges brought against any Jan. 6 defendant, including assaulting a police officer, obstruction of an official proceeding and entering the Capitol with a dangerous weapon. If convicted of any of those charges, Cua faces the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence.
Earlier this month, Cua’s attorney filed motions seeking to dismiss some of the more serious, felony charges facing his client, including that he interfered with a Capitol Police officer attempting to keep rioters from entering the Senate chamber.
In his motion, attorney Channing D. Phillips argued the specific charge of interfering with a police officer performing a “federally protected function” is “constitutionally infirm” and a relic of segregation. The law has been used in the prosecution of other Jan. 6 cases, as well as against rioters who were part of the racial justice protests of 2020, but it has its roots in the 1960s when it passed amid civil rights unrest.
The so-called Civil Obedience Act of 1968 was sponsored by Sen. Russell Long, D-La., and widely supported by Southern members of Congress as a way to federally prosecute demonstrators accused of attacking or interfering with police or firefighters.
“Senator Long was clear that the COA was designed to diminish the (Civil Rights Act of 1968),” Phillips wrote.
Similar complaints about the use of the statute have appeared in motions in other Jan. 6 cases.
Apart from the law’s checkered past, Phillips said prosecutors have not shown how Cua interfered with interstate commerce or interfered with “a federally protected function,” which are elements that would need to be proven in court for a conviction.
In a reply filed Dec. 19, prosecutors called the argument “misdirected and meritless,” citing the Congress’s broad federal authority over activities in Washington, including regulating police powers.
U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss has scheduled a motions hearing Feb. 2, about two weeks before Cua’s trial.
William McCall Calhoun, a 59-year-old lawyer in Americus, is scheduled to stand trial on Feb. 27 on five charges, the most serious of which is obstruction of an official proceeding, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.
Like most, Calhoun attended the Trump rally at the Ellipse before marching on the Capitol. He traveled from Georgia to Washington with his friend, Verden Andrew Nalley, with whom he had attended an earlier “Stop the Steal” rally at the Georgia State Capitol. Nalley pleaded guilty a year ago to a misdemeanor charge and received two years probation and community service in a negotiated deal with the federal prosecutors.
No such deal is on the table for Calhoun, which is why he is headed to trial. Calhoun has told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he believes he is being unfairly charged because of political views.
“The Democrats want to crush all dissent,” he said in an interview earlier this year.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Prosecutors contend that Calhoun was among the first wave of rioters to break through police lines and enter the Capitol. The U.S. Department of Justice has often charged these initial accused rioters with more serious crimes than those who entered the Capitol later or those who did not penetrate as far into the Capitol as they say Calhoun did.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich granted Calhoun’s request for a “bench trial” rather than a jury trial, meaning lawyers for both sides will make their case directly to her and she will decide Calhoun’s guilt or innocence. Calhoun’s attorney, Jessica Sherman-Stoltz, did not respond to a request for comment, but some Jan. 6 defendants have worried they could not receive a fair trial if jurors were selected from heavily Democratic Washington.
Although Calhoun was arrested just a few days after the Jan. 6 riot, he has continued to practice law in southwest Georgia.
The “zip-tie guy” and mom
Eric Munchel provided one of the more famous images of the Jan. 6 riot when a photographer snapped a photo of him dressed in black tactical gear vaulting a railing in the Senate spectator’s gallery with a handful of plastic handcuffs. The image was chilling alongside the threats and catcalls of other Jan. 6 rioters who roamed the hallways calling out for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence.
Munchel, 32, was dubbed the “zip-tie guy” by internet sleuths who helped track him down. Since his arrest, his attorneys have said he found the handcuffs lying at a security checkpoint and said he had no plans to use them, but the image stuck.
Munchel, who lives in Nashville but grew up in Georgia, and his mother, Woodstock resident Lisa Marie Eisenhart, 58, are scheduled to go to trial on April 11. The pair face 10 counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, which carries possible 20-year prison sentence. Prosecutors also have charged Munchel carrying a dangerous weapon — a Taser attached to his belt — which also carries a possible 10-year sentence.
Both mother and son have had their problems since their arrest. In September 2021, Munchel was accused of violating the conditions of his bond when he was evicted from the apartment where he was staying with friends for behavioral issues.
Eisenhart, a registered nurse, lost her job following her arrest. According to court filings, she took work as a home health nurse, but had trouble accepting jobs on short notice because of the requirement that her movements be electronically monitored while out on bond.
While these cases appear to be headed to trial, any of them could be settled by a plea agreement between now and then. More than half of the Jan. 6 cases across the country have been settled by guilty pleas over the past two years, including 115 felony pleas. Thirty three defendants who chose to take their cases to trial have been convicted of one or more charges, including the convictions of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and his co-defendant, Kelly Meggs, who were found guilty in November of seditious conspiracy.
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com