Capitol riot: Man charged with Champaign County duo interrupts judge, claims innocence

A man charged along with two Champaign County residents accused of planning and taking part in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot interrupted a judge Friday while the judge was ruling that the man should remain in jail pending trial.

Thomas Edward Caldwell, 66, of Virginia, told a judge that messages and texts presented by prosecutors alleging he played a role in planning the riots were taken out of context.

“I know this is out of order, your honor … but my life hangs in the balance here,” Caldwell could be heard saying while U,S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta was making his ruling. The hearing took place remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The judge asked Caldwell to remain silent and reminded him that anything he says can be used against him in the case.

Caldwell is charged — with Jessica Watkins, 38, and Donovan Crowl, 50 — with conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds. The case is filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The indictment filed in the case alleges the three were co-conspirators who planned to disrupt the Congressional proceedings to certify the presidential election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The indictment also alleges the three acted on those plans and illegally entered the Capitol grounds.

The government also argued that the three were members of the Oath Keepers, a loosely organized group of militia members who believe “the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” Caldwell has denied being associated with the Oath Keepers.

Caldwell pleaded not guilty to the charges during the hearing. The court also heard arguments regarding whether Caldwell should remain in jail. The judge said that the charges against Caldwell are serious.

“The nature of the circumstance could not be more serious,” he said. “(This) is an offense which to cuts to the very heart of our democracy and the peaceful transition of power.”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys argued during a 2-hour hearing about alleged evidence in the case, including the messages where prosecutors said he worked with others to arrange hotel rooms and transportation. They also said that he discussed transporting weapons across the Potomac River by boat.

Caldwell’s attorney, Thomas Plofchan, argued that his client is a decorated Navy veteran who is disabled and should be allowed to be freed from jail pending his trial. He said much of the prosecutor’s allegations are inferred from “rhetoric” and without proof. He called the indictment an example of “creative writing.”

He also noted that his client is not seen in the Capitol by any photos, a difference between him and Watkins and Crowl.

The judge set a next court date for March 12.

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