ST. LOUIS (AP) — The attorney for a St. Louis couple facing felony charges for waving guns at racial injustice protesters who marched near their home asked a judge Wednesday to remove the city’s top prosecutor and her entire office from the case.
A grand jury earlier this month indicted Mark McCloskey, 63, and Patricia McCloskey, 61, on charges of unlawful use of a weapon and tampering with evidence.
The effort to disqualify Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, contends that her prosecution is politically motivated. The McCloskeys’ attorney, Joel Schwartz, cites emails referencing the case that were sent to potential donors ahead of Gardner’s primary election victory in August. He cited one email sent in July, just before she filed charges, and another days later after charges were filed.
“There’s no place in our system, in our judicial system, for a political trial,” Schwartz told Judge Thomas Clark II.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Rob Huq defended Gardner, saying she had a right to defend herself from Republican attacks. In charging the McCloskeys, Gardner drew criticism from President Donald Trump, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and other leading Republicans.
“Any reasonable reading of that email shows that it was obviously a response to those political attacks,” Huq said.
The judge did not issue a ruling but after the hearing, Schwartz said he expects one within the next two weeks.
At issue was a protest on June 28, when a few hundred marchers veered onto the private street near the the McCloskeys’ $1.15 million home in St. Louis’ posh Central West End area.
Mark McCloskey emerged with an AR-15 rifle and his wife displayed a semiautomatic handgun. The confrontation was captured on cellphone video.
No shots were fired, but Gardner filed the weapons charge, alleging the McCloskeys’ actions risked creating violence during what she deemed an otherwise peaceful protest.
The McCloskeys contend they were simply defending their home, as allowed by law. They also contend that the demonstration was anything but peaceful given the protesters broke through an iron gate and appeared threatening. Protest organizers say the marchers were not threatening and didn’t break the gate.
The McCloskeys have since become celebrities in conservative circles. They’ve been in frequent contact with Trump, Schwartz said earlier this month and again on Wednesday. They spoke on video at the opening night of the Republican National Convention. Parson has said he will pardon the McCloskeys if they are convicted.
The McCloskeys declined interview requests on Wednesday. Gardner did not appear at the hearing.
The evidence tampering charge was added by the grand jury. The indictment alleges that the couple altered a semiautomatic pistol “to impair its verity” in the investigation.