WASHINGTON, D.C. (WGHP) – The fate of former High Point police officer Laura Steele and five others charged with insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, is getting closer to a jury’s decision.
The defense and the prosecution in rebuttal rested their cases on Thursday, and closing arguments are being delivered today to a jury of 12 and now one alternate in U.S. District Court.
Judge Ahmit P. Meta replaced one member of the jury with an alternate during court on Thursday, but court summaries did not include a reason for that change. Reasons could include a motion brought by one of the arguing attorneys, misconduct, illness or personal considerations involving the juror.
Steele, a Thomasville resident and a member of the right-wing militia group the Oath Keepers, is one of the Piedmont Triad’s most prominent defendants among the 27 from North Carolina who have been accused of or sentenced for participating in a violent effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on former President Donald Trump’s lies about fraud.
Steele faces six counts listed in an eighth superseding indictment filed in June against a group of eight who are alleged to have assisted Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, in planning to disrupt that lawful transfer of power in Washington.
Rhodes and Kelly Meggs in November were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in helping to organize supporters of Trump to overturn the lawful election of President Joe Biden. Three other defendants were found guilty of related felony charges.
Steele is being tried with Sandra Ruth Parker, Bennie Alvin Parker, Connie Meggs, William Isaacs and Michael L. Greene, all of whom allegedly participated in carrying out Rhodes’ plans. All defendants remain free on bond during the trial.
Steele is one of more than 1,100 members of Oath Keepers in North Carolina – including at least two state legislators – and there also are the Proud Boys, another group of right-wing extremists. One of that group’s state leaders, Charles Donohoe of Kernersville, pleaded guilty to charges earlier this year and agreed to testify in the sedition trial of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, which has been underway in Washington.
Another defendant from North Carolina, Jeremy Bertino, 43, of Belmont, implicated Tarrio during recent testimony, saying “the extremist group acted as the ‘tip of the spear’ that day and led a mob by example by being among the first to confront police, topple barricades and break into the building,” The Washington Post reported.
“We influenced people, the normies, enough to stand up for themselves to take back their country and take back their freedom,” Bertino testified.
Scope of court cases
Two more residents of North Carolina this week were charged with being in the Capitol illegally, and another, Johnny Harris of Shelby, elected to plead guilty just before his bench trial was scheduled to begin.
Most recent court records suggest that more than 1,000 individuals have been arrested in nearly all 50 states. More than 518 have pleaded guilty, and approximately 420 have been sentenced, including about 220 to jail time.
Among those from North Carolina who have been charged or convicted, six are residents of the Piedmont Triad. Seven of the now 27 have been sentenced to prison terms. One received a suspended sentence. Several more should learn their fates in the next few weeks. Some have completed their sentences.
There were hundreds of injuries to law enforcement officers, death threats on the life of Vice President Mike Pence and others, and, ultimately, seven lives were lost during or after the insurrection, when thousands of Trump’s supporters broke through windows and doors, stormed past barricades and drove members of Congress into hiding in a violent bid to keep Trump in power.
The House Select Committee referred four criminal charges against Trump, and the Department of Justice is investigating. A special counsel also has been appointed to oversee several investigations involving Trump.
The Steele case
Latest indictment by Steven Doyle on Scribd
Steele is named in seven of nine counts in a 35-page indictment against the group. Those charges describe how Rhodes and certain regional leaders recruited members, including Steele, to travel to Washington. They are alleged to have worn paramilitary clothing and Oath Keepers identification as they overpowered guards and invaded the Capitol through the doors to the rotunda, court documents say.
Steele’s brother, Graydon Young of Englewood, Florida, is among several named in the document, but he was indicted separately He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of Congress and was the first Oath Keeper to do so.
Steele is the only defendant in an eighth charge, which describes how she and Young on Jan. 7 allegedly used a backyard burn pit to destroy evidence of the attack, including their clothing.
Young’s plea and agreement to testify against Rhodes spared him a potential 30 years in prison. During the trial of Rhodes in October, he broke into sobs on the stand and apologized.