By PAUL J. YOUNG
City News Service
RIVERSIDE – Four Riverside County men who joined thousands in the unrest that led to the breach of the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021, were convicted of felony and misdemeanor charges following a monthlong federal trial, which was the final one involving county residents connected to the breach.
Erik Scott Warner, 48, of Menifee, Felipe Antonio Martinez, 50, and Derek Kinnison, 42 — both of Lake Elsinore — along with Ronald Mele, 54, of Temecula, were all convicted Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and obstruction of an official proceeding.
Warner and Kinnison were additionally convicted of tampering with documents.
All four were also found guilty of misdemeanor charges of entering a restricted building and disruptive conduct in a restricted building.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth allowed each defendant to remain free on bond pending sentencing, for which no date has been set.
“While I respect the jury’s decision, I’m disappointed with the verdict,” Kinnison’s attorney, Nicolai Cocis of Murrieta, told City News Service Wednesday. “Derek is a patriotic citizen who wanted to show his support for President Donald Trump, whom he believed was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. He regrets his involvement in the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol. We will be reviewing the verdict carefully and considering all available legal options.”
Federal prosecutors argued the four men joined thousands who sought to disrupt proceedings at the Capitol, where Congress was preparing to certify the Electoral College vote recognizing President-Elect Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
They were part of a group called the “Three Percenters,” which has been described variously as a militia, political action organization and anti- government movement that’s been around since the 2000s. Some members draw parallels between themselves and the rebel forces opposing the British Empire during the War for American Independence.
The indictment states the men coordinated via social media on logistics for their trip to the nation’s capital for the “Stop the Steal” rally announced by then-President Trump. Kinnison said in a Telegram post that they would be transporting “lots of gear, from medical kits, radios, multiple cans of bear spray, knives, flags, plates, goggles, helmets.” He later posted a selfie with a bandolier of shotgun ammunition hung over his shoulders, according to court papers.
“It came out in the trial that my client took two handguns with him when he drove across the country,” Cocis said. “But those legally owned firearms never left his hotel room after they arrived in Washington.”
Cocis posited to jurors that the pistols, along with a shotgun brought by one of the other defendants and also locked in a hotel room, were taken as a precaution; the men feared an outbreak of violence after Congress’ vote and wanted to be able to defend themselves on their return trip to California.
The defendants joined streams of people who walked to the Capitol Building after Trump’s speech on the Ellipse.
As the four men approached the building in the early afternoon of Jan. 6, 2021, Kinnison shouted, “This is the storm of the Capitol,” as they moved through the crowd, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Minutes later, Warner joined protesters ascending the northwest stairs to the Upper West Terrace. Then Martinez, Kinnison and Mele advanced on a police line on the northwest lawn, prosecutors said. Warner accessed the Capitol Building via a broken window, at which point Martinez, Kinnison and Mele went to the terrace in an attempt to rendezvous with him, but the defense said the trio ultimately elected not to enter the building.
All of the men were clad in ballistic vests and carrying gas masks and cans of bear spray, though none were accused of dispersing it.
Prosecutors said in the ensuing weeks, Warner and Kinnison deleted chats from their phones to conceal their involvement.
Kinnison, Martinez, Melee and Warner represent the last of the Riverside County residents charged and convicted for actions on Jan. 6.
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