WASHINGTON, D.C. (WGHP) – Laura Steele, a former High Point police officer from Thomasville who is one of the Triad’s defendants in the insurrection on the Capitol on Jan. 6, learned Friday that her trial could be postponed.
In a pretrial teleconference before Federal District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta, Steele was one of seven defendants represented by attorneys who discussed matters regarding evidence, deadlines for motions, a possible change of venue and other technicalities.
But Mehta admitted that the trial date of Nov. 28 may be complicated by not only other routine calendar matters ahead of the trial but also by the very question of whether all seven defendants would fit into the courtroom for one trial.
The carryover date, Mehta said, is scheduled for Feb. 1. That could be the start date for the trial for everyone or the second half of a federal trial doubleheader for the seven, depending on what happens in the next hours, days and months.
Mehta said he expects to learn more later today from court officials about how many defendants can fit into the “ceremonial courtroom.”
“It’s not just how many defendants can sit at the defense table,” Mehta said. “It’s defense counsel…how many marshals we will need…telephones at the defense table…all those are factors.”
One of six in Triad
Steele, 52, one of six original defendants from the Triad, is charged with conspiracy; obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting; destruction of government property and aiding and abetting; entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds; and tampering with documents or proceedings.
She was arrested on Feb. 17 and has been charged in seven superseding indictments, including as part of Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group. She is free on personal recognizance.
There are some 20 North Carolinians charged with various roles in events that day, in which hundreds have been arrested. Five people died during or in relation to the assault on behalf of President Donald Trump to halt Congress’ vote to certify the 2020 election.
Charles Donohoe of Kernersville is charged with helping to plan that attack on the Capitol for the Oath Keepers and with being one of the first in the building that day.
Some have pleaded out their cases to avoid trial. Prosecutors mentioned on Friday that there would be a deadline for these seven defendants to plead as well.
As for Steele and the other defendants scheduled to be tried in November, there is a separate hearing on motions scheduled for May 17 that could affect all of this. Mehta scheduled a follow-up status conference at 4 p.m. on June 30.
He said he would have sufficient information to formalize the trial schedule by then. “We’ll just have to see what makes sense,” he said.
One attorney already had proposed pushing back the start date of Nov. 28 to the following day because the schedule would be the Monday after Thanksgiving, saying it was a “bad day for the voir dire panel and for the attorneys.” Mehta did not respond to that request.
No evidence of ‘government agents’
The trial of Elmer Stewart Rhodes III is scheduled for late September and through October, and the calendar for that trial affects these seven defendants. All trials are expected to take a month or six weeks.
Steele’s case is grouped with charges against Donovan Crowl, Sandra Parker, Bennie Parker, Connie Meggs, William Issacs and James Beeks. Attorneys for each addressed the court Friday, along with prosecutors.
Much of the hearing dealt with discovery dates, deadlines for motions, witness and grand jury transcripts and other technicalities. Steele’s attorney, Peter Cooper, said his client would join an original motion by one of the other defendants to change venue in the case. All the other defense attorneys said they would, too. Cooper had no other issues to bring before the court when his turn came.
One issue that was brought up by prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy was that defendants in some cases involving the insurrection had brought up as a strategy whether there were people acting on behalf of the government and other groups or if there were government informants.
She said that her office was answering those inquiries to the extent that they could and determining whether they would be relevant and would lead to admissible evidence.
“We do not have information that there were any government agents acting as provocateurs on Jan. 6,” Rakoczy said. “I’m not able to answer about government informants.”