Champaign County woman who testified in Jan. 6 trial gets split decision on charges

Jurors found Jessica Watkins, who testified on her own behalf, not guilty of seditious conspiracy, the most serious charge she faced.

The Champaign County woman who surprised the judge and legal experts by testifying at her trial on charges in connection to the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot was found not guilty of seditious conspiracy, the most serious count, but was found guilty of other charges this week.

Jessica Watkins of Woodstock has been jailed since her arrest in January 2021.

After a nearly two-month trial, she was convicted Tuesday of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent members of Congress from discharging their duties and obstructing officers during civil disorder, court documents show.

She was also found not guilty of destruction of government property.

She was tried with the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, and other members of the Oath Keepers. Rhodes and another co-defendant were found guilty of seditious conspiracy, the first time in about three decades the government has won such a conviction.

“The Justice Department is committed to holding accountable those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021. The prosecutors and agents on this case worked tirelessly, with extraordinary skill, and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

ExploreOath Keepers verdicts: Rhodes guilty, Champaign County resident not guilty of sedition

The justice department said seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, each carry a maximum of 20 years in prison, while the charge of conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging his duties carries a maximum of six years in prison. Interfering with law enforcement officers during civil disorder carries a maximum of five years in prison, the DOJ said.

“Each defendant was convicted of at least one offense that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison,” the department of justice said. “The Court will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.”

It is common for a judge to sentence a defendant to less than the maximum punishment, and a judge can also order a defendant to serve each count’s punishment at the same time, called concurrent sentencing, which reduces the actual time served in prison.

A sentencing date was not listed in the cases docket as of Wednesday afternoon.

“As this case shows, breaking the law in an attempt to undermine the functioning of American democracy will not be tolerated,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI will always uphold the rights of all citizens who peacefully engage in First Amendment protected activities, but we and our partners will continue to hold accountable those who engaged in illegal acts regarding the January 6, 2021, siege on the U.S. Capitol.”

During the trial, Watkins, who ran the now-closed Jolly Roger bar in Woodstock, surprised the judge and legal experts by testifying on her own behalf Nov. 16.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta appeared frustrated that the court wasn’t given a heads-up, telling Watkins’ lawyer “it would have been nice to know this” before he told jurors earlier they might begin deliberations soon. Legal experts also were surprised by her decision to testify.

Watkins, a transgender woman, told jurors about struggles with her gender identity since childhood. She kept it from her parents for years and tried to keep it secret during her time in the U.S. Army.

Watkins went AWOL after a fellow soldier found her computer search history that included transgender support groups, and she eventually received a less-than honorable discharge.

Regarding the 2020 election and her role in Jan. 6, Watkins testified it was a “really stupid” decision to storm the Capitol.

She said she was no longer proud of what she did that day, but also said she never intended to interfere with the election certification and never heard any commands for her and other Oath Keepers to enter the building.

Video and audio of her and others going up the steps and in the Capitol were presented to jurors.

Watkins, on the stand, essentially admitted to one of her charges, interfering with official police duties.

“I want to say I’m sorry to you,” she said to jurors, “but I’d rather say I’m sorry to Christopher Owens, the police officer who was here.”

Watkins said Owens was on the other side of the line, protecting officers and the Capitol “from my dumb ass.”

She was one of three defendants in the trial who testified in their own defense. Her co-defendant, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, also testified.

Watkins’ attorney, Jonathan Crisp, did not respond to an email request for comment.

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