Defense rests at sedition trial for Proud Boys leaders

FILE - Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio rallies in Portland, Ore. Outside pressures and internal strife are roiling two far-right extremist groups after members were charged in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Aug. 17, 2019. A jury will soon decide whether the onetime leader of the Proud Boys extremist group is guilty in one of the most serious cases brought in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File) (Noah Berger, Noah Berger)

WASHINGTON – Defense attorneys on Thursday finished presenting their trial testimony for the landmark case against former Proud Boys national leader Enrique Tarrio and four other group members charged with conspiring to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 election.

Federal prosecutors have a right to call rebuttal witnesses to testify before jurors hear attorneys’ closing arguments and begin deliberating. The trial, which started more than three months ago, is scheduled to resume on Friday.

Lawyers for the five defendants rested their respective cases on the 50th day of trial testimony. The last defense witness to testify was one of the five defendants, Dominic Pezzola, who was a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York.

The jury is poised to decide one of the most important cases from the Justice Department's investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Tarrio and his co-defendants are charged with seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors say was a violent plot to keep Trump in the White House.

During a prosecutor's cross-examination on Thursday, Pezzola referred to the trial as “corrupt” and “phony” and said he was facing “fake charges."

“I just want the truth out,” Pezzola said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson showed Pezzola a photograph of police officers scuffling with rioters storming the Capitol. The prosecutor asked Pezzola if he and the rest of the crowd were acting as an “invading force.”

“We were acting as trespassing protesters,” said Pezzola, who began testifying on Tuesday.

Jurors also saw a “selfie" video that Pezzola took of himself after he entered the Capitol. He talked about taking a “victory smoke” on a cigar and said, “I knew we could take this (expletive) if we just tried hard enough.”

Pezzola, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, said he now feels “idiotic" and ashamed that he recorded that video. He reiterated that he didn't know of any plot or plan for the Proud Boys to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“That was the most spontaneous thing I've ever witnessed in my life,” he said of the riot.

Pezzola testified on Wednesday that he wasn't coordinating with any Proud Boys when he smashed a window with a riot shield stolen from one of the police officers guarding the Capitol.

Jurors have heard testimony by more than three dozen witnesses since the trial started in January. Prosecutors rested their case on March 20 but have the right to call more witnesses to rebut defense testimony.

Pezzola and Tarrio, a Miami resident, are on trial with Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl. Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, was a Proud Boys chapter president. Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, was a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Rehl was president of a Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia.

Rehl, the only other defendant to testify at the trial, said the group had “no objective” that day.

Tarrio wasn't in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. Police arrested him in the nation's capital two days before the riot on charges that he burned a church’s Black Lives Matter banner during an earlier march in the city. A judge ordered Tarrio to leave the city after his arrest.