A federal judge decided on Wednesday that a former government contractor from New Mexico who claimed that the police let him into the Capitol during last year’s pro-Trump riot was not guilty of four petty offenses, the first acquittal connected to the sprawling investigation of the attack.
At a two-day bench trial in Federal District Court in Washington, the defendant, Matthew Martin, admitted that he went into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, along with hundreds of other supporters of President Donald J. Trump. But he claimed that he had not broken the law because two Capitol Police officers had waved him in through a door.
Prosecutors argued that Mr. Martin was aware that he had entered the building illegally given that signs of the riot were clearly apparent all around him, including tear gas and alarms going off.
Ruling in favor of the defense, Judge Trevor N. McFadden said he found it plausible that Mr. Martin believed the police had let him in and thus had not knowingly gone into the building improperly. Judge McFadden acquitted Mr. Martin of four misdemeanors: entering and remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building; violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
Other judges are not bound by Judge McFadden’s analysis of Mr. Martin’s claims about the police. But in the wake of the acquittal, some defendants facing low-level charges who might otherwise have entered guilty pleas could feel emboldened to go to trial and test the government’s cases against them. More than 200 people have already pleaded guilty to misdemeanors connected to the riot.
The case of Mr. Martin, who once held a top-secret security clearance as a private contractor for the Energy Department, was the third connected to the Capitol attack to go to trial.
In early March, a jury convicted Guy Wesley Reffitt, a member of a Texas militia group, of obstructing Congress’s certification of the 2020 presidential election by helping to lead an advance against the police that resulted in the first violent breach of the building.
A few weeks later, at another nonjury trial, Judge McFadden found Couy Griffin, the founder of a group called Cowboys for Trump, guilty of trespassing during the riot, but not guilty of a second misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.
A former Virginia police officer, Thomas Robertson, is also now on trial in Washington. He faces charges of obstructing the certification of the election and interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder.