Texas photojournalist Alexei Wood and five others were acquitted of all charges Thursday in a closely-watched trial of protesters accused of rioting, conspiracy and destroying property on Inauguration Day.
The case was, to many observers, a test of the First Amendment, especially for Wood, who livestreamed the protest and march through 16 city blocks and even taped himself being pepper-sprayed and then arrested.
“There was just elation at the defense table,” said Brett Cohen, Wood’s court-appointed attorney. “I had delight in Wood’s reaction; it made me really happy. I think it’s a valid verdict. My client had no intent to riot.”
The trial began Nov. 15 with the jury beginning deliberations last Friday.
Wood and the other defendants had been facing as many as 50 years in prison.
The District of Columbia jury rejected the prosecution’s argument that the actions of a few breaking windows and destroying property made other protesters nearby complicit as they “re-absorbed” the lawbreakers as part of a large protest of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia believes that the evidence shows that a riot occurred on January 20, 2017, during which numerous public and private properties were damaged or destroyed,” said spokesman Bill Miller. “This destruction impacted many who live and work in the District of Columbia, and created a danger for all who were nearby. … We appreciate the jury’s close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict. In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant.”
There are nearly 200 more defendants in the case — including another Texas native, journalist Aaron Cantu — scheduled for trials over the next year.
Most of the protesters wore black and covered their faces although Wood, who can be seen in his video, did not. However, prosecutors highlighted Wood’s commentary during the video, which seemed to be shouts of approval and which the government said amounted to encouraging the destruction of property.
Cohen said that when he and other attorneys spoke with the jury privately after the verdicts were announced, several jurors said Wood’s case was the toughest for them to decide.
“It was a tough case and I am thrilled for Alexei who had no intent to commit any crimes,” said Cohen.
Wood lives in San Antonio but packed up his belongings and has been staying in Washington to be in the courtroom during the trial.