A North Carolina man charged with firing an assault rifle inside a Washington restaurant that conspiracy theorists falsely claimed harbored a child-sex ring remained jailed Friday as his attorney received more time to negotiate a possible plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina, briefly appeared in U.S. District Court in Washington on Friday for an update hearing on the so-called “Pizzagate” case, which focused national attention on the potentially dangerous impact of internet conspiracy theories and the prevalence of fake news.
Welch has been behind bars since his Dec. 4 arrest after he allegedly drove from Salisbury to Washington’s Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant. He was investigating a bogus theory that linked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to an alleged child-sex-trafficking ring inside the restaurant.
Welch, sporting close-cropped hair and beard and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, sat quietly Friday as his lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Dani Jahn, asked for more time to study thousands of pages of documents – including cellphone records – that federal prosecutors had recently shared with her.
U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson granted her request, scheduling the next hearing for March 6.
Welch has pleaded not guilty to a federal count of transporting a firearm and ammunition across state lines and District of Columbia charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during a commission of violence. The combined charges carry a maximum of 35 years in prison.
While Jahn pores over the recently obtained evidence, she’s also talking with the government’s lawyers about a possible plea-bargain deal. She declined to comment on the nature of the talks. Federal prosecutors left the courtroom Friday without comment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Demian Ahn told the court last month that federal prosecutors had orally offered Welch a plea deal.
“I’m very hopeful that those discussions continue,” Jahn told Jackson during Friday’s proceedings. “I don’t think those discussions have been exhausted.”
According to court papers and police reports, Welch stormed the restaurant while wielding an AR-15 rifle and packing a .38 revolver, weapons that were recovered following his arrest.
Inside the restaurant, Welch “searched for evidence of hidden rooms or tunnels, or child sex-trafficking of any kind,” FBI Special Agent Justin Holgate said in an affidavit.
Welch fired his rifle at a locked door that frustrated him, Holgate said in the affidavit.
“When that proved unsuccessful, he climbed furniture to look into the closed-off room,” Holgate reported, adding that Welch “found that it was unoccupied.”
Welch also allegedly pointed the rifle at an employee who came from the back of the restaurant, according to police.