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Judge again refuses to release Army Ranger vet charged in Jan. 6 Capitol storming

Police try to hold back protesters who gather to storm the U.S. Capitol. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

A former Army Ranger and teacher from the Pittsburgh area who’s charged with assaulting police during the Capitol storming will not be getting out of jail pending his joint trial in the District of Columbia with a group of other protesters charged with felony violence.

Robert Morss of Glenshaw — one of two dozen Western Pennsylvanians accused of storming the Capitol — had argued that he should be released because of government delays in the discovery process.

But U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden said last week that those delays can’t be helped because Mr. Morss is being tried with eight others, all of whom are accused of acting in concert to attack law officers inside a Capitol tunnel.

The judge said Mr. Morss has only himself to blame and that he’s going to stay locked up.

“His decision to join a violent crowd then has led him into such a crowded trial now,” Judge McFadden ruled.

Judge McFadden said the case has been delayed because he has to deal with nine defense lawyers, as well as the numerous motions they’ve all filed — far more than is typical.

“The complexity of this case distinguishes it from most other Jan. 6-related cases,” the judge said.

Mr. Morss, who has been in federal custody for about a year, tried to argue that his continued detention is punitive. He also complained that it’s in violation of his right to a speedy trial and has hampered his ability to prepare a defense.

Prosecutors said they’ve turned over all their discovery material. They said any delays have been caused by the logistics of trying nine defendants at once and the continuing COVID-19 crisis.

They also said Mr. Morss remains dangerous and a flight risk should he be released, the same argument they’ve made before.

“The facts of this case have not changed,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Paschall of the Capitol Siege Section. “The defendant participated in a violent assault on law enforcement officers over a 2 1/2 hour period on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to overtake the U.S. Capitol building.”

She said his actions place him among the most serious Capitol storming defendants.

Mr. Morss, a former substitute teacher in the Shaler Area School District and an Afghanistan combat veteran, is charged with multiple counts of assault and robbery against police with whom he fought. He was dressed in tactical gear, carried a knife and wore goggles to protect himself from tear gas. Video shows him engaging multiple times with officers, at one point yanking a shield from one and trying to get other protesters to organize a shield wall against the cops.

“He acted as a leader among the mob, consistently battling with law enforcement for several hours,” Ms. Paschall said. “And all of these activities are captured in photographs and videos taken on the day in question.”

The judge sided with her.

Judge McFadden said trying all the defendants at one time has created scheduling issues and justifies the delay, as does the fact that COVID has limited the number of trials in the Washington courthouse. He also said Mr. Morss can’t point to an incident in which he can say his detention has hindered his defense preparation; he can meet with his lawyer like anyone else.

He said Mr. Morss’ motion is “meritless.”

Mr. Morss, 29, is charged with 53 counts. Prosecutors said he led the violence and has shown no remorse. The FBI found a speech he wrote on his iCloud account, which he indicated he intended to deliver to a judge at some point, in which he said he has no regrets for his violence and denounces Congress for not overturning the election.

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(c) 2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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