A federal jury in Washington began deliberating Wednesday in the trial of an accused rioter who authorities say urged an unidentified man to steal a laptop computer from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Riley J. Williams, who was 22 when she traveled to D.C. from her central Pennsylvania home on the day of the Capitol siege, was among a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump who stormed the building while Congress was meeting to confirm Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, according to prosecutors. She is charged with eight crimes, including aiding and abetting the theft of a laptop that Pelosi (D-Calif.) used to conduct video conferences with U.S. and foreign officials.
In a trial that began Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court, jurors were shown video of Williams exhorting rioters to push past security lines of police and climb stairs to the House speaker’s suite of offices. In his closing argument Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Dalke described Williams as a zealous instigator who helped “weaponize” a seemingly rudderless crowd.
“The danger of the mob is in the numbers, in the crush of people in that chaos,” Dalke said. “And the danger is so much worse when someone … is focusing the power of that mob. Everywhere the defendant went on January 6th, she dialed up the chaos.”
A video shows that when Williams entered a conference room in Pelosi’s suite, a man had his hands on an open laptop on a table. Prosecutors said Williams can be heard yelling, “Dude, take the f—ing laptop,” and, “Dude, put on gloves.” Other evidence, including video, indicates that the man then used a black cloth, possibly a glove, in picking up the laptop and putting it in a backpack, Dalke said.
Defense attorney Lori J. Ulrich said her client should be acquitted of the charge related to the laptop because her words had no influence on the thief. “It didn’t matter what she told them to do or not to do,” Ulrich told jurors in her closing statement. “That laptop was gone either way.” But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael M. Gordon argued that Williams committed a crime just by urging the theft.
Under the law, Gordon said in court, “we don’t have to prove that her instructions mattered.”
Besides aiding and abetting the theft, Williams, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., is charged with three felonies: civil disorder, obstructing an official proceeding and interfering with police officers. She also is accused of four crimes related to disorderly conduct, and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds.
Throughout the week-long trial, prosecutors depicted her as an obsessive election denier intent on disrupting the peaceful transfer of power, while Ulrich described her as an unsophisticated young woman who, after Jan. 6, boasted on social media about crimes that she did not commit because she “wanted to be somebody” and was caught up “in a little fantasy world.”
In urging jurors to acquit Williams of obstructing an official proceeding, Ulrich noted that the law requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams had an “intent” to commit that offense. Ulrich argued that her client was ignorant of U.S. electoral processes and did not understand what Congress was doing that day.
Ulrich, who called no witnesses during the trial, also argued that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams committed the other crimes she is accused of.
“I won’t insult your intelligence,” she told the jury. “It was wrong for Riley Williams to be in the Capitol on January 6th. But eight different charges is an overreach.”
Dalke and Gordon showed the jury many of Williams’s post-riot digital messages to friends that amounted to a narration of her offenses that day, the two prosecutors said.
According to an FBI affidavit filed in court, Williams, in the days immediately after Jan. 6, boasted of committing crimes in typo-ridden texts and social media posts, writing: “STOLE S-T FROM NANCY POLESI,” and, “I TOOK HER GRAVEL HAMMWR TBING,” and, “I DOMT CARE I TOOK NANCY POLESIS HARD DRIVES I DON’T CARE KILL ME.”
Then, in the days after the riot, when she learned that the Justice Department was mounting one of the most sprawling investigations in its history, the prosecutors said, Williams used sophisticated software to “wipe” the digital history in her computer. She also deleted social media accounts and got a new cellphone, all of which showed “consciousness of guilt,” Dalke told the jury.
By “gravel,” she meant “gavel,” according to prosecutors. But Ulrich said her client stole nothing that day and was bragging out of excitement. “She wanted people to notice her,” the defense lawyer said. “And she got noticed.”
Jurors saw video of Williams after she left Pelosi’s office suite, clashing with police officers elsewhere in the Capitol. She was clad in black tights and a brown jacket and carried an oversize zebra-striped handbag. Ulrich repeatedly pointed out Williams’s attire to the jury, contrasting her client’s appearance with that of other rioters, who were dressed in military fatigues, tactical vests, helmets and gas masks.
“She wasn’t telling people what to do,” Ulrich said. “She wasn’t at any helm.”
But Gordon and Dalke showed the jury video of what they said was Williams loudly rallying those combat-ready rioters to attack police lines. “Lock arms! Lock arms!” she can be heard shouting, according to the prosecutors. “Push! Push!”