WASHINGTON ― A jury convicted a woman on Wednesday who was arrested during a congressional hearing in January after laughing at the claim that now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had a record of treating Americans equally.
Desiree Fairooz, an activist associated with the organization Code Pink, was found guilty on two counts: one for engaging in “disorderly or disruptive conduct” with the intent to disrupt congressional proceedings and a separate count for parading, demonstrating or picketing.
Several jurors who spoke with HuffPost after the verdict emphasized that they were focused on Fairooz’s actions after a rookie Capitol Police officer approached Fairooz when she laughed at Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-Ala.) claim that Sessions had a clear, well-documented and “extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law.” A group of jurors spoke to HuffPost on the condition of anonymity.
“She did not get convicted for laughing. It was her actions as she was being asked to leave,” the jury foreperson said.
Several of the jurors indicated they disagreed with the decision of Capitol Police Officer Katherine Coronado to take her into custody because of the laugh.
“We did not agree that she should have been removed for laughing,” the jury foreperson stated. Some jurors indicated they believed Coronado made a mistake.
“The officer, she was a rookie officer, and I think it was her first time involved in an arrest,” another juror stated. “Make of that what you will.”
The jurors indicated they felt they had to convict Fairooz because of the way the laws are written, with yet another juror describing them as “so broad.”
At least three jurors said it was fair to say they felt forced into convicting her. “There’s almost no way that you can find them not guilty,” one said.
“There’s not a lot of wiggle room,” said the jury foreperson.
Justice Department attorneys claimed during the trial that laughter was enough to merit a criminal charge against Fairooz, asserting that “heads turned around” when Fairooz let out what they characterized as a “scoff,” “outburst” or “burst” of laughter. But they mostly focused on how Fairooz acted after she was confronted by the police officers.
In a previous court filing, prosecutors said Fairooz “let out aloud [sic] burst of laughter, followed by a second burst of laughter” in response to Shelby’s comments. They said she grew “loud and more disruptive” when officers “attempted to quietly escort” her from the room. Fairooz, the government alleged, “created a scene after scoffing at Senator Shelby’s comments and then yelling that Senator Sessions’ voting record was ‘evil,’ while simultaneously waving a sign that read: ‘support civil right stop sessions.’”
“Why am I being taken out of here?” Fairooz asked. “I was going to be quiet, and now you’re going to have me arrested? For what?” Fairooz also referred to Sessions’ record as “evil,” Shelby’s comment as “ridiculous,” and appeared to hold up her sign, which could violate the ban on picketing.
If Fairooz hadn’t said anything on her way out, several jurors said, there would have been a different verdict.
“Ms. Fairooz’s comments as she was being escorted out caused the session to stop,” the jury foreperson said. “It disrupted the session.”
After the verdict, Fairooz told HuffPost she was “surprised” and “disappointed” by the jury’s decision. She said she had never intended to be arrested when she went to Capitol Hill back in January.
Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, who pretended to be KKK members supporting Sessions and were tried alongside Fairooz, were convicted on two of three charges. The jury found them not guilty of a disruption count because they took action before the hearing was gaveled in.
“We found them not guilty because the session had not started, that was the core reason,” one juror stated.
“They didn’t disrupt anything, they didn’t impede the hearing from starting,” another said.
Barry, Bianchi and Fairooz are all due back in court in June. Jail time is possible because of the statutes they were convicted under, but probably unlikely. Justice Department attorneys David Stier and Jason Covert declined to comment on their sentencing recommendations.
Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, said the office had no comment on the verdicts.
This article was updated with comment from Fairooz and details from a previous court filing.