First Jan. 6 acquittal: Trump judge finds Matthew Martin not guilty of all counts after misdemeanor bench trial

A federal judge on Wednesday found a former Energy Department contract engineer not guilty of trespassing and disorderly conduct in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, saying the defendant plausibly argued that police officers allowed him into the building.

US District Judge Trevor N. McFadden, a 2017 Donald Trump appointee who served in the former president’s administration’s Justice Department, acquitted Matthew Martin of Santa Fe, NM, of four misdemeanor counts of trespassing and disorderly conduct in a bench trial – handing the Justice Department its first defeat in a Capitol breach prosecution.

Martin, who testified in his own defense, argued that he had never visited the US Capitol before and did not know it was off-limits to protesters.

McFadden’s verdict after a two-day bench trial is not binding on other judges hearing Jan. 6 cases in Washington, but his findings could encourage some defendants in other prosecutions who have made similar claims to contest their charges.

About 384 people like Martin face only misdemeanor counts in the Capitol siege – or roughly half of the more than 770 people federally charged. About 150 of more than 200 people who have pleaded guilty have admitted to misdemeanor offenses only, typically to nonviolent counts such as entering or remaining in restricted Capitol buildings or grounds, or illegal picketing, parading or demonstrating.

Martin was acquitted of each of those offenses, and, like some other defendants, claimed he had no knowledge he was illegally trespassing.

McFadden ruled that while U.S. prosecutors had shown that Martin “more likely than not knew he was not supposed to go in” to the Capitol, the actions of U.S. Capitol Police officers at a key entrance to the building created reasonable doubt.

“At the time the defendant was on the scene, officers were standing beside the doors to let people pass,” McFadden said, referring to the Columbus Doors at the top of the east Capitol steps. “People were streaming in and the officers made no attempt to stop people at the door. I do find the defendant reasonably believed the officers allowed him into the Capitol.”

Martin approached the entrance at about 3 pm, less than 20 minutes after authorities say it was forcibly breached by members of the Oath Keepers and others.

Capitol Police said they had given up efforts to defend the door, which leads to the Capitol Rotunda, leaving two officers to stand guard to prevent injuries to the crowd.

However, prosecutors said by the time Martin reached the entrance, he had entered restricted Capitol grounds marked by barricades of bike racks and crossed over plastic fencing posted with “area closed” signs. At the threshold of the doors, Martin recorded video showing a crowd shouting, alarms blaring, the doors’ windows shattered and people in distress from chemical irritants.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Romano called the defendant’s claims of innocence “ludicrous.” He added that Martin showed awareness of guilt when his Los Alamos supervisor texted him that night, admonishing, “You can not overrun the capital building.”

“Actually you can, rather easily, I might add,” Martin replied. “Not as much security as you might think. Our numbers were freaking huge. They were not prepared. ”

While Martin initially claimed he learned the building was breached only that night after viewing media reports, he personally recorded video that showed police in riot gear clearing the building. His video also showed officers pulling down a rioter who was punching, kicking and striking a window with a pole and confronting the screaming crowds.

Martin took the stand in his own defense, defending his actions as peaceful. He said that he committed no violence or vandalism, and that he enjoyed his time in Washington, calling the mood for much of the day festive and “a magical day in many ways.”

Martin claimed he crossed no barricades on his walk around the Capitol to its east front and assumed that “area closed” signs applied only to portions of the Capitol grounds where hundreds of people were already walking when he approached after 2 pm

Martin said he did not understand the significance of torn-down plastic fencing that he crossed, nor appreciate that people massed on the east center steps of the Capitol were not allowed there.

McFadden disputed Martin’s claim that an officer waved him in, citing inconclusive video. The judge made clear that he found all government witnesses to be credible, and that police at the doors who were grossly outnumbered “acted responsibly and reasonably,” although he noted they did not testify.

“Count one is a close call, but under our system of justice, close calls go to the defendant,” McFadden said. He added that Martin waited in line, was mostly quiet as he entered and recorded his 10 minutes in the Capitol. Martin left after riot police forcibly cleared the ceremonial Rotunda, the judge said.

“No reasonable juror could find those actions to be disorderly. I do not find his mere presence in a crowd inside the Capitol to be disorderly, ”McFadden said, although he said there were plenty of people around him who were yelling, confronting or assaulting police.

McFadden called Martin’s conduct “about as minimal and nonviolent as a protester could be in the Capitol” on Jan. 6. The judge said Martin did not shout or raise his flag while in the Rotunda, spending most of his time at the back of a crowd, recording videos with a phone not much unlike members of the news media.

Romano said surveillance video and Martin’s own recordings showed him initially failing to leave the Rotunda, disrupting officers’ effort to clear the building, and later impeding or blocking officers trying to move people away from the building.

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Following the Capitol breach, Martin lost his top-secret-level clearance and his job in Los Alamos, NM, with an Energy Department contractor that supports the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District declined to comment on the ruling or its potential impact.

Represented by attorney Dan Cron of Santa Fe, Martin waived his right to a jury trial and was the second misdemeanor defendant to face trial.

McFadden also presided over the earlier misdemeanor trial. The judge found Couy Griffin, a New Mexico county commissioner and founder of the Cowboys for Trump grass roots group, guilty of trespassing after he posted video of himself atop the inauguration scaffolding outside the Capitol.

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