Judge delays trial on Jan. 6 charges, although West Virginia man says he is ready for court

Trial has been delayed for Morgantown resident George Tanios and his longtime friend Julian Khater, who are accused of collaborating to use pepperspray against U.S. Capitol police on Jan. 6, 2021.

That’s because lawyers for Khater want to focus on continued talks about a plea agreement. Tanios’s lawyers have not objected to a delay, but the Morgantown man might have a different mindset.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, during a status hearing today, asked Tanios if he understands the delay.

George Tanios

“Yes sir,” Tanios responded, “and I look forward to my day in court.”

Judge Hogan said he has concerns about delaying the trial, but agreed to move it from the original June start date to Oct. 5 instead.

Khater’s lawyers submitted a motion March 28 to hold off on preparations for a June 6 trial. Khater’s lawyers indicated the motion was made with the consent of the other attorneys in the case, including federal prosecutors.

In this morning’s status hearing, Judge Hogan wanted to clarify where all the parties stand.

Beth Gross, an attorney for Tanios, didn’t object to a delay, but said discussions about a plea deal for Tanios haven’t made significant progress so far. She acknowledged that more time might make a difference.

“As far as a resolution of the case, we’ve had many negotiations with the government, as of right now, none of which have been successful yet,” Gross said.

“I would say that possibly more time could help us come to a better resolution. At least that’s my conversations that we’ve had thus far, And I think a continuance won’t hurt Mr. Tanios because he’s still out and I think he’s doing well on supervision.”

Judge Hogan set another status hearing for 11 a.m. June 22 to see whether talks have progressed.

Tanios has pleaded not guilty to this point.

Tanios is accused of passing the pepperspray to Khater, who aimed it at police officers including Brian Sicknick, who later died. A medical examiner concluded that Sicknick died of natural causes after suffering two strokes.

Tanios and Khater are charged with nine counts including assaulting three officers with a deadly weapon. The charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Julian Khater

In the status hearing today, lawyers for Khater reiterated that their side has made progress on a possible plea agreement. The lawyers for Khater said it would be helpful to be able to focus on that possibility, rather than preparing for a trial.

“I am hopeful that continued discussions without the trial looming over our heads imminently would be successful,” said Chad Seigal, an attorney for Khater.

“And obviously, if that were to occur I don’t think I need to tell the court that it would avoid unnecessary expenditure of judicial resources, taxing the jury and obviously it would also avoid the officers and their family members involved in the events of Jan. 6 to have to relive the events of that day, which I think would be emotional.”

Federal prosecutors agreed, citing the chain of command at the U.S. Department of Justice that must be involved with the steps in high-profile cases.

“So it seems that we’ll be running up on the deadline even though it seemed the trial’s in June, it will take some time,” said federal prosecutor Anthony Scarpelli. “So we thought that our resources focusing on the plea was a better use of time to see if we can resolve this case.”

The mob storming the U.S. Capitol disrupted the constitutional duty of counting Electoral College votes and prompted the evacuations of representatives, senators and Vice President Mike Pence. One woman was fatally shot while trying to climb into the chambers, three others died from “medical emergencies” and more than 100 police officers were injured.

Of the thousands of protesters in Washington, D.C., that day, about 800 went into the Capitol, police have said.

West Virginians facing federal charges of entering the Capitol that day are former Parkersburg Councilman Eric Barber, former state Delegate Derrick Evans of Wayne County, who resigned after being charged, college senior Gracyn Courtright of Hurricane and Jeffery Finley, a Martinsburg resident said to lead West Virginia’s group of right wing Proud Boys.

Finley entered a guilty plea Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Documents entered in his case describe planning and interactions with the larger, loosely-knit Proud Boys organization.

Courtright has served one month in federal prison in Philadelphia and was released earlier this month.

Barber pleaded guilty last Dec. 16 to two federal misdemeanors, and a federal judge has now rescheduled the sentencing for 10 a.m. June 1.

Evans pleaded guilty earlier this month to a civil disorder charge. A sentencing hearing has been set for 12:30 p.m. June 26.

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