(Reuters) - The first criminal trial of protesters who thronged Washington streets for sometimes violent Jan. 20 protests against U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration ended with six people cleared of rioting charges, according to court records and prosecutors.
Police in Washington arrested more than 200 people in the protests, during which black-clad activists smashed store windows, blocked traffic and fought with police.
Of the 234 arrested, 20 have already entered guilty pleas, charges have been dropped against 20 more and 188 are due to be tried in batches of about six people at a time next year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington.
Prosecutors contended during the four-week trial that the six defendants had been part of the group that became violent during the Inauguration Day protests. Those protests were far smaller than the Women’s March the following day, in which hundreds of thousands of people poured into several major U.S. cities, including Washington.
Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors never proved that the six people on trial - Michelle Macchio, Jennifer Armento, Christina Simmons, Alexei Wood, Oliver Harris and Brittne Lawson - committed specific acts of violence.
“All the government proved was that these individuals showed up and walked as protesters,” defense attorney Sarah Kroff told the jury, according to The Washington Post. “That is not a crime.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia said it would push ahead with prosecuting the remaining 188 people awaiting trial.
“The evidence shows that a riot occurred on Jan. 20, 2017, during which numerous public and private properties were damaged or destroyed,” spokesman Bill Miller said in a statement. “In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant.”
Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis