An inadvertently disclosed court filing on Monday indicated that prosecutors are in advanced negotiations about a potential guilty plea from a heavy metal guitarist and self-described “lifetime member” of the Oath Keepers who is one of more than 300 defendants charged for breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Jon Schaffer, frontman with a band called Iced Earth, was arrested in Indiana in January on charges that he used bear spray to assault officers trying to prevent rioters from entering the building as lawmakers were attempting to certify President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.
“The government’s ongoing plea negotiations with this defendant are the first and most advanced plea negotiations involving any of the over 300 Capitol Riot defendants,” prosecutors wrote in a filing they indicated was intended to be submitted secretly to Judge Beryl Howell, chief of the federal District Court in Washington, D.C.
Despite the request for sealing, the filing appeared on the court’s public docket on Monday afternoon, just hours prior to what had been a scheduled Tuesday hearing on whether Schaffer should continue to be detained. At the request of both sides, Howell put the hearing off until April 21.
The five-page filing describes “good-faith” efforts to cut a deal that would include cooperation from Schaffer. Though Schaffer’s involvement with the broader Oath Keepers organization is unclear, the U.S. attorney in Washington has charged a dozen members of the pro-Trump, anti-government paramilitary group with conspiring to stop Congress’ certification of the 2020 election.
“Based on these debrief interviews, the parties are currently engaged in good-faith plea negotiations, including discussions about the possibility of entering into a cooperation plea agreement aimed at resolving the matter short of indictment,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ahmed Baset and Louis Manzo wrote. “Among the contemplated plea terms upon acceptance of a plea are the defendant’s release pending sentencing.”
After a hearing last month, Washington-based Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui ordered that Schaffer be detained pending trial. However, Schaffer’s attorneys appealed that decision to Howell. The government had been set to respond to that effort, but requested a two-week delay as both sides work toward a cooperation deal.
Prosecutors indicated in Monday’s filing that they would quickly indict Schaffer if their plea negotiations fell apart in that time frame. They also indicated that disclosing the existence of these plea discussions could jeopardize their criminal investigations.
“If alerted to this information, investigation targets against whom the defendant may be providing information about could be immediately prompted to flee from prosecution, destroy or conceal incriminating evidence, alter their operational tactics to avoid future detection, attempt to influence or intimidate potential witnesses, and otherwise take steps to undermine the investigation and avoid future prosecution,“ Baset wrote. “Accordingly, these facts present an extraordinary situation and a compelling governmental interest which justify sealing of this filing pertaining to this investigation that is being submitted at this time.”
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