Judge demands answers after Jan. 6 defendant recants guilt
A Jan. 6 defendant’s boast in an interview this week that he had no regrets about his role in the Capitol riot — just days after he acknowledged his guilt in a federal courtroom — may upend the man’s efforts to resolve the criminal case against him.
U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta issued an order Friday instructing defendant Thomas Adams Jr. and prosecutors to explain why the guilty findings the judge entered on Tuesday, following a brief “stipulated” bench trial should not be overturned in light of Adams’ comments to a reporter the following day.
"I wouldn't change anything I did," Adams told the State Journal-Register Wednesday outside his home in Springfield, Ill. "I didn't do anything. I still to this day, even though I had to admit guilt [in the stipulation], don't feel like I did what the charge is.”
In a brief order Friday morning, Mehta gave both sides one week to provide reasons “why the court should not vacate Defendant's convictions of guilt in light of his post-stipulated trial statements” included in the article. The judge also attached a copy of the news report.
It is unclear how the article in the Illinois newspaper came to the attention of Mehta, who sits at the federal courthouse near the Capitol.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington declined to comment Friday on Mehta's order. Adams' public defenders did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Judges handling Jan. 6 cases have been repeatedly and increasingly irked by defendants appearing to be apologetic and contrite in court, only to make public statements days later minimizing their guilt and sounding cavalier about their actions. And judges are loath to accept what effectively amounts to a guilty plea from any defendant who doesn’t sincerely believe in their own guilt.
Adams, who told the Illinois newspaper he was recently fired from his job as a lawn care worker, acknowledged under oath Tuesday that he had committed the conduct Mehta ultimately found him guilty of. He acknowledged walking over broken glass as he went inside the Capitol and that he told the FBI his intent was to “occupy” the building for days, if necessary. Adams also acknowledged that he “knew that he did not have authorization” when he went into the Senate chamber and walked among the senators’ historic desks.
Entering the Senate chamber has been a sort of red line for prosecutors, with them insisting on felony guilty pleas or convictions to resolve cases against those who went inside, even briefly.
And so far they’ve been nearly unblemished in their prosecutions, though a judge recently acquitted a defendant of an obstruction charge despite his presence in the chamber.
Adams was on the Senate floor for about seven minutes before he was kicked out of the building, according to the statement of facts prosecutors and the defense agreed to in his case.
Stipulated trials have been used in recent months to seek to resolve about a dozen Jan. 6-related criminal cases where the defendant faced a felony charge of obstruction of a congressional proceeding. Almost 1,000 people have been charged criminally in connection with the unrest at the Capitol, which prompted a delay in the congressional session to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
One of Mehta’s colleagues, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, ruled that the obstruction charge did not apply unless prosecutors could prove that a defendant intended to tamper with or damage the actual electoral vote documents being tallied that day.
No other judge to consider the issue has agreed with Nichols. Meanwhile, prosecutors are appealing his decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Unlike the guilty pleas typically offered in deals with prosecutors, stipulated trials allow defendants in other cases to preserve their ability to wipe out their obstruction convictions if the D.C. Circuit sides with Nichols. The obstruction charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence, although no Jan. 6 defendant has received a sentence close to that in a case not involving violence.
The harshest sentence to date — 10 years — was delivered by Mehta to retired New York City cop Thomas Webster, who took his case to trial. Webster was convicted of a brutal assault of a Washington Metropolitan Police officer outside the Capitol, and Mehta found that Webster lied on the stand about his actions.
Adams also admitted Tuesday to the facts needed to convict him on a misdemeanor charge of entering and remaining in the Capitol without permission. That carries a one-year maximum sentence. Mehta has set sentencing in the case for June 16.
The FBI appears to have zeroed in on Adams after he said on the day after the Capitol riot that he enjoyed the experience. “It was a really fun time,” Adams told Insider. He has since said he did not know of the violence taking place elsewhere in the building and on the Capitol grounds.