Skip to content

Woman convicted in Jan. 6 attack, but not in theft of Pelosi laptop

  • by

A federal jury in Washington said Monday that it could not unanimously agree on whether a Pennsylvania woman aided in the theft of a laptop computer from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, but the panel convicted her of six other offenses related to the riot, including two felonies.

After deliberating for the equivalent of three full days in the case of Riley J. Williams, jurors said they also could not reach a unanimous verdict on whether Williams committed the felony of obstructing an official government proceeding, the most serious charge she faced in terms of potential jail time. The charge of aiding and abetting the laptop theft was a misdemeanor.

But in a trial that began Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court in Washington, the panel convicted Williams, 23, of civil disorder and interfering with police officers, both felonies, and four misdemeanors involving disorderly conduct, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, and illegally demonstrating in the Capitol.

Except for a few days behind bars after her arrest, Williams, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., near Harrisburg, had been on home detention pending the outcome of her trial, and defense attorney Lori J. Ulrich on Monday asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson to allow Williams to remain out of jail pending her sentencing, scheduled for Feb. 22.

But Jackson, agreeing with a prosecutor, ordered Williams to be immediately detained and had harsh words for the defendant.

Citing evidence that Williams had been preparing to go into hiding before the FBI arrested her, Jackson said from the bench: “This is a person who was packed and ready to flee before.” Based on video of Capitol attack, Williams “was profane, she was obnoxious, she was threatening,” the judge said. “She has no respect whatsoever for the enforcement of the law.”

Jackson declared a mistrial on the obstruction count and the charge related to the laptop theft. The U.S. attorney’s office did not immediately indicate whether it intends to pursue a new trial on those offenses.

In asking for Williams to be locked up pending her sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Dalke said in court: “It’s about to get real” for Williams. “She’s facing at least two to three years of jail time,” based on advisory federal sentencing guidelines, “and depending on enhancements, it could be considerably more.”

Williams traveled to Washington with her father and two others on the day of the Capitol siege. In the trial, prosecutors described her as a zealous election denier who orchestrated violence inside the building during the riot, while Ulrich depicted her as a naive young woman who made an error in judgment by entering the Capitol.

In urging jurors to acquit Williams of obstructing an official proceeding, Ulrich said in her closing argument last week that the law requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams had an “intent” to commit that offense. Ulrich argued that her client was ignorant of U.S. electoral processes and did not understand what Congress was doing that day.

That was one of the charges on which the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked.

Clad that January day in black tights and a brown jacket and carrying a fuzzy, zebra-striped handbag slung over her shoulder, the slightly built Williams sought out rioters in the building who were equipped with tactical vests, shields, goggles and helmets, and organized them to attack police security lines, according to prosecutors.

She “pushed them to the front of the line again and again and again,” Dalke said in his closing argument last week, after jurors had seen numerous video clips of Williams exhorting men in military gear. “The defendant didn’t bring a weapon with her on January 6th. She made one there. She made one out of other rioters.”

Riley and her three companions attended President Donald Trump’s incendiary rally Jan. 6 on the Ellipse, where he repeated his false claim that rampant voter fraud had led to his 2020 reelection defeat. Afterward, she got separated from her father and the others and made her way to the Capitol, where she joined a mob of Trump supporters in storming the building while Congress was meeting to confirm Joe Biden’s victory.

Video images show that when Williams arrived in Pelosi’s office suite, rioters already were there and one man had his hands on a laptop that was open on a conference table. Prosecutors said Pelosi (D-Calif.) used that computer to conduct video meetings with U.S. and foreign officials.

Prosecutors said Williams can be heard yelling, “Dude, take the f—ing laptop,” and, “Dude, put on gloves.” Ulrich argued that her client should be acquitted of aiding and abetting the laptop theft because the unidentified thief would have taken the computer even if Williams had said nothing. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael M. Gordon told the jury that Williams committed a crime merely by urging the theft.

That was the other charge on which jurors were deadlocked.

Gordon and Dalke showed jurors numerous post-riot messages that they said Williams sent to friends in which she acknowledged committing crimes. According to the FBI, among other typo-ridden texts and social media posts, Williams wrote: “STOLE S— FROM NANCY POLESI,” “I TOOK HER GRAVEL HAMMWR TBING” and “I DOMT CARE I TOOK NANCY POLESIS HARD DRIVES I DON’T CARE KILL ME.”

By “gravel,” Williams meant one of the House speaker’s gavels, the prosecutors said.

But Ulrich described her client as an unsophisticated young person who falsely inflated and boasted about her role in the riot because she desperately “wanted to be somebody.” She was caught up “in a little fantasy world,” the defense attorney said. “She wanted people to notice her.”

As of this month, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, about 900 people had been arrested in connection with the Capitol riot, including nearly 280 who, like Williams, were charged with resisting or assaulting police officers. About 447 people have pleaded guilty to various charges and about 30 have been convicted of various offenses at trials, the office said.

Ulrich said Williams took great pains to conceal her digital history after the riot, not because she had committed the acts described in numerous messages, but because she was frightened.

“She’s scared now,” Ulrich told jurors. “She knows this is a big deal. … All her boasting and bragging about things she didn’t do … are now catching up with her.’”