Dominic Pezzola, Proud Boy in Capitol riot, says he was duped by Trump


Will Cleveland
 
| Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

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The Rochester man accused of leading the charge in the storming of the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 said he was deceived and duped by President Donald Trump in court paperwork filed by his counsel Wednesday.

The filing came on the second day of the second impeachment trial of the former president.

Dominic Pezzola, 43, was arraigned Tuesday on 11 charges, including conspiracy and assaulting, resisting, or impeding a United Stated Capitol police officer. He, along with co-defendant William Pepe of Beacon, Dutchess County, pleaded not guilty Tuesday. Pepe was released on his own recognizance. 

Pezzola was ordered to be detained without bail pending his trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather ruled Wednesday. Meriweather determined Pezzola, if released, would potentially engage in future activities against the Capitol or other buildings.

Pezzola, whom authorities allege is a member of the Proud Boys, a white nationalist political organization, allegedly knocked over barriers outside the Capitol, seized a riot shield from a Capitol police officer, and then used the shield to smash a window at the Capitol building that provided access to a wave of rioters.

U.S. Rep. Stacey Plaskett, D-Georgia, one of the house impeachment managers, specifically named Pezzola during her presentation as she introduced new video evidence at Trump’s trial. It came at the exact same moment Meriweather was considering the detention application.

A federal prosecutor indicated they would be seeking a “terrorism enhancement” in the charges facing Pezzola.

Federal public defender Jonathan Zucker, who is representing Pezzola, said his client’s “beliefs were not rationally based” and added Pezzola was “not acting out of criminal intent.” Instead, Zucker depicted Pezzola as acting “out of a delusional belief that he was a ‘patriot’ protecting his country.”

In a 15-page motion for release, Zucker said his client was deceived by Trump and “acted out of delusional belief” in response to calls by the former president. Zucker outlined his client’s disavowal of Trump and stated Pezzola’s involvement with the Proud Boys was minimal. He said Pezzola has no other criminal history.

“Defendant is former military who is sworn to protect his country. He was responding to the entreaties of the then commander in chief, President Trump. The President maintained that the election had been stolen and it was the duty of loyal citizens to ‘stop the steal,'” Zucker argued.

Zucker concluded, “Hopefully, as a result of this experience he has learned not be so gullible and will not be so easily duped again.”

Pezzola was also among a group of people who expressed a desire to kill Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Mike Pence, according to a witness quoted in the criminal complaint.

Feds: Rochester man charged in Capitol riot had bomb-making manual on thumb drive

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Public defender asks for house arrest

Zucker requested his client be released on house arrest “with reasonable curfew privileges that allow him to leave the house for work and activities related to this case.”

In the filing, Zucker offered a nearly point-by-point breakdown of the prosecutor’s previous detention request. Zucker said “the prosecution’s memorandum must be examined for what it does not allege.” This included no claims that Pezzola ever physically injured anyone on Jan. 6 or that he attempted to hurt anyone. Prosecutors did say Pezzola forcibly took a riot shield from a Capitol Police officer.

Zucker also said there is no evidence Pezzola participated in the planning of the events, “nor that he played any role as a leader instructing others in what to do during the event, merely that he was one of the allegedly thousands who participated in the event. The only act that seems to distinguish defendant from thousands of other participants is that he used a shield to break a window and he, along with hundreds if not thousands, actually entered the capital (sic).”

As a retired Marine corporal, Pezzola possessed firearms many years ago in connection with his military service. But Zucker pointed out no firearms, weapons or explosives were found in his home after the FBI executed a search warrant there.

Thumb Drive

Prosecutors placed “great weight” that Pezzola possessed a thumb drive containing instructions on how to make homemade firearms, poisons, and explosives.

Some of the documents on the thumb drive were titled “Advanced Improvised Explosives” and “Ragnar’s Big Book of Homemade Weapons.” FBI agents recovered the thumb drive after executing a search warrant on Pezzola’s Rochester home on Jan. 15, the day he was also arrested. His defense attorney argued there is no proof the documents were ever accessed.

Furthermore, Zucker offered, “Defendant’s family has expressed the opinion that defendant’s computer technology skills are so rudimentary that he could not open the thumb drive by himself if he wanted to.”

Pezzola attended a Make American Great Again rally in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 12, 2020, which was just after he was introduced to the Proud Boys, Zucker wrote.

“Upon information and belief, his only other activity as a Proud Boy was discussing politics over drinks at bars on occasion,” Zucker wrote.

Zucker asked that Pezzola be released on his own recognizance or to the custody of his common-law wife for house arrest. His wife previously worked with Monroe County’s pre-trial services program as a supervisor. According to the filing, Pezzola has worked as a flooring contractor since his honorable discharge from the Marines.

“He is clearly not oriented toward a criminal lifestyle,” Zucker offered. “Rather he has consistently made his living through honest lawful work.”

Prosecutors argued Pezzola is a danger to the community and a serious flight risk.

“The defendant’s actions in breaking the window to the U.S. Capitol, allowing the first group of rioters to stream through, cannot be overstated,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik M. Kenerson wrote in the detention filing. “The defendant’s actions show planning, determination, and coordination. His stated desire to commit further acts of violence, combined with his access to weapons- and bomb-making manuals, is extremely concerning.”

Contact Will Cleveland at wcleveland@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @willcleveland13, Facebook @willcleveland13, and Instagram @clevelandrocThanks to our subscribers for supporting quality local journalism. If you aren’t a subscriber, please consider a digital subscription.





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