A Champaign County man accused in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot was found guilty of two charges following a bench trial in federal court.
Donovan Ray Crowl was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and civil disorder aiding and abetting after a judge found him guilty on Wednesday, according to court records.
Crowl was part of the Ohio State Regular Militia led by Jessica Watkins, who was acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other serious charges in the trial alongside Stewart Rhodes. In December 2022, Crowl sent a message in a group chat that included Watkins that said “law abiding citizens are fix’n to ‘act out of character’... Time for talk’in is over.”
Crowl’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said her client was exercising his First Amendment free speech rights on Jan. 6 without any intent to obstruct Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.
“His conduct was no different than that of many Americans who’ve gone to Congress to peacefully protest and have not been charged with felonies,” Hernandez wrote in an email.
James Beeks — a Florida resident who was playing Judas in the traveling production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” when he was arrested — was cleared of conspiracy to obstruct Congress’ certification of the 2020 election and civil disorder after a trial in federal court.
Beeks is only the second Jan. 6 defendant to be acquitted of all charges after a trial. Beeks represented himself at trial, though he was assisted by a lawyer who served as stand-by counsel and delivered his closing argument. Approximately 100 others have been found guilty of at least one count after a trial decided by a jury or judge, and more than 600 have pleaded guilty.
The trial for Beeks and Crowl was what’s called a “stipulated bench trial,” which means the judge decided the case based on a set of facts that both sides agreed to before the trial started. Such trials allow defendants to admit to certain facts while maintaining a right to appeal any conviction.
Prosecutors had previously charged Beeks with other lower-level offenses — including illegally entering the Capitol — but agreed to only go to trial on the two felony offenses and dismiss the remaining counts.
Prosecutors say Beeks and Crowl were part of a group of Oath Keepers wearing paramilitary gear who stormed the Capitol alongside the mob of former President Donald Trump supporters. Beeks joined the Oath Keepers in December 2020 and drove to Washington from Florida before meeting up with a group of extremists ahead of the riot, prosecutors said.
Beeks, who was also a Michael Jackson impersonator, wore a jacket from Jackson’s “Bad” World Tour along with a helmet and was carrying a homemade shield during the riot, according to court papers.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta Mehta said Beeks — unlike other Oath Keepers charged with riot-related crimes — didn’t post any messages on social media or exchange text messages with other extremists that could establish what his “state of mind” was leading up to the Capitol riot. The judge also cited a lack of evidence about what Beeks did inside the Capitol that could support a conviction for interfering with police.
“His actions must rise and fall on their own,” the judge said.
Beeks was arrested in November 2021 while he was traveling in Milwaukee with the “Jesus Christ Superstar” tour. He told reporters after the verdict that it “feels like a huge burden” has been lifted of his shoulders.
Beeks acknowledged that he joined the Oath Keepers through the group’s website but said he never met or communicated with any of his alleged co-conspirators before Jan. 6. He said never knew of any plan to attack the Capitol and mistakenly believed the Oath Keepers “were the good guys.”
“I met up with the wrong people,” he said. “I lost my whole career. (Jan. 6) is like a scarlet letter.”
Dayton Daily News reporter Kristen Spicker contributed to this report.