Trial of Capitol Christmas Tree protest gets off to a contentious start

The trial of three people charged in the Capitol Christmas Tree protest of 2017 got off to a contentious start on Monday as prosecutors tried to show the judge what evidence they believe will establish that the men had lied about their intentions during the protest.

Lawyers for defendants Jamie Hoyt, 34, Garrett Swasey, 41, and Matthew Darby, 25, challenged the prosecution’s use of documents and social media postings as evidence, saying the things weren’t conclusive and therefore couldn’t be used in criminal proceedings.

Later, Judge Paul A. Franklin denied defense requests to throw out the two charges against Darby on the grounds that they were falsified and found to be false.

Prosecutors claimed that undercover law enforcement officers had photographs that would show the trio as they emerged from a grandstand into a freestyle rap concert with their arms crossed and the Tree of Life Congregation gathered around them.

Prosecutors also introduced a Twitter post showing one of the defendants filming the Capitol Christmas Tree with what looks like his cell phone. After viewing the photo gallery that was created by a separate man, Mr. Franklin said he believed that the photo used in the post was of Mr. Darby.

But Mr. Franklin gave the same statement about the photo when asked whether the same photo could have been used of a different defendant, an assertion Judge Gayle Smoak, the presiding judge on the case, thought was problematic.

She said: “I don’t want to presume that that’s accurate.”

Before the trial got underway on Monday, Deputy U.S. Attorney Denise Galizzo-Roche argued that prosecutors “should not be held to a strict letter of the law” and that their requests for additional evidence was necessary to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Conlin argued that the defendants “have a mountain of exculpatory evidence that they have refused to turn over.”

Mr. Swasey, a University of Maryland employee and father of two, died in December 2017 while helping police manage a protest.

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