Former Parkersburg Councilman Eric Barber, who has a plea agreement in hand on Jan. 6 charges, is delaying making the deal final.
“Where are we?” U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper asked in a hearing today. “I thought we had a deal.”
“I thought so too your honor,” responded Brenda Johnson, assistant U.S. Attorney.
Barber’s attorney then explained a desire to keep the plea agreement under consideration while also examining newly-available evidence. That’s a reference to a trove of evidence, including video, from the Jan. 6 mob at the U.S. Capitol being made available to attorneys for the hundreds of defendants.
“You told me the last time you all had an agreement,” Judge Cooper said, turning the exchange to Barber’s public defender, Ubong Akpan.
“Yes your honor,” Akpan replied, referring to a Sept. 23 hearing when the plea agreement was publicly discussed.
But about that time, Akpan said, the additional evidence became available for review. It’s not necessarily evidence that applies specifically to Barber, but his lawyer said it’s worth examination in case anything applies to his case.
“I thought it was important for me to at least get a chance to do that,” Akpan told the judge.
Cooper agreed to a delay of about two months and then asked if the next hearing should be to proceed with the plea agreement or just as a check-in with a status hearing.
“It’s not our intention to deviate from the path of the plea agreement,” Akpan said.
That prompted the judge to again ask, then, why a delay is necessary.
“I don’t want to get into your plea discussions but obviously you knew about the government’s efforts to create this database,” Cooper said. “Your client was willing to sign a plea agreement with that knowledge. What has changed?”
Akpan said lawyers are now gaining access to the trove of evidence. “I thought it was prudent, now that we have access to it, to actually review it.”
The judge asked, “Do you have any information that Mr. Barber appears on any of the videos that have been released thus far, other than the ones you all have been given that show him?”
No, Akpan acknowledged, but “We’re asking for more time to review.”
Investigators began examining Barber’s conduct in Washington, D.C., after multiple people provided tips.
The investigators examined Barber’s own livestream video and social media posts, interviews he provided to local newspaper and television reporters about being in Washington, D.C. that day, as well as video from inside the Capitol depicting a man in a green helmet who looked like Barber.
As images spread of the people inside the Capitol, local people identified a man who looked a lot like Barber wearing a green combat-style helmet and a military-style field jacket.
In a YouTube video called “Shooting and Storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.,” the same man in a crowded doorway says “They’re giving us the building?” He then taps the helmet with both hands and begins moving toward the front as the crowd chants, “Break it down, break it down.”
FBI agent Andrew Cooper, who provided an affidavit, began examining images from Barber’s Facebook page to identify him. He also placed a call to the Parkersburg Police Department, where local officers were already aware of the claims about Barber. Through all those comparisons, Cooper concluded that the man was, in fact, Barber.
The FBI agent also requested security footage from inside the Capitol and received six videos of the man moving through Statuary Hall and the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6.
Barber faces federal charges of entering a restricted building, disorderly conduct and theft. He has remained free on $10,000 unsecured bond.
The back-and-forth in court today indicated Barber’s plea deal would trim those misdemeanors to two counts.
Barber appeared by telephone for today’s hearing. When the judge asked him to explain why, Barber gave an explanation common among West Virginians.
“Cellular coverage and internet service in West Virginia is kind of sketchy and spotty,” he said. “I’m not sure it would maintain the video feed for me throughout the entire hearing.”
Judge Cooper set the next hearing for 3 p.m. Dec. 16. For that, he told Barber to get a good online connection.
“I’m not gonna do a plea by phone,” Cooper said. “I want to see you, and I want you to see me.”