Leaked Court Document Shows Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer May Get a Plea Deal
A confidential court document that was inadvertently made public on Monday, April 5, indicates that prosecutors are in negotiations with Iced Earth founder Jon Schaffer for a plea deal related to his role in the January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection attempt. Such discussions typically offer lesser charges to the accused in return for cooperation and information that could lead to help in other related cases.
The five-page memo, obtained by Politico, appeared on the public docket a day in advance of a scheduled hearing to address a motion filed by Schaffer’s attorneys to appeal his continued detention while he awaits trial. That hearing has now been re-scheduled to April 21 as a result of the document leak.
In the memo, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ahmed Baset and Louis Manzo wrote:
“As stated in the Consent Motion to Continue, the government and counsel for the defendant have conferred and are continuing to communicate about this matter. This has entailed a series of debrief interviews with the defendant that began on March 2, 2021. Based on these debrief interviews, the parties are currently engaged in good-faith plea negotiations, including discussions about the possibility of entering into a cooperation plea agreement aimed at resolving the matter short of indictment. Among the contemplated plea terms upon acceptance of a plea are the defendant’s release pending sentencing.”
The document, submitted to Judge Beryl Howell, chief of the federal District Court in Washington, D.C., was requested by Baset and Manzo to be sealed due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter and worries that making it public would fundamentally threaten the ability of both parties to benefit from the arrangements of the potential plea deal. On that matter, the document reads:
“Finally, the parties request that this filing be docketed under seal. Such an order is appropriate because the filing relates to sensitive information about the defendant’s cooperation with the government and ongoing plea negotiations that are not public. Accordingly, disclosure may reveal the existence, scope, and direction of the ongoing and confidential investigation. If alerted to this information, investigation targets against whom the defendant may be providing information about could be immediately prompted to flee from prosecution, destroy or conceal incriminating evidence, alter their operational tactics to avoid future detection, attempt to influence or intimidate potential witnesses, and otherwise take steps to undermine the investigation and avoid future prosecution. Accordingly, these facts present an extraordinary situation and a compelling governmental interest which justify sealing of this filing pertaining to this investigation that is being submitted at this time.”
It is not clear how the terms of the discussed plea deal might be affected by the document leak.
Attorneys for Schaffer had filed a motion in early March to dismiss all charges leveled against him, claiming a violation of The Speedy Trial Act, which specifies an indictment or information must be brought against a detainee within 30 days. Last week, Schaffer agreed to temporarily forego the rights afforded to him by that act and extend his detention until May 3, arguing that his defense team needed more time to prepare their case. Both parties agreed that the increased length of Schaffer’s detention before his trial will not count towards enforcement of the Speedy Trial Act, which Schaffer’s counsel had previously cited after he spent 48 days in an Indiana jail before extradition to Washington, D.C. Delays have been caused by a backlog in cases related to the January 6 Capitol riots; as of March 10, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington had taken on more than 250 cases, most related to the riot at the Capitol, compared to less than 20 in the same time period in 2020.
Schaffer is being represented by the Attorneys for Freedom Law Firm, a practice advertising a specialty in criminal defense, with offices located in Arizona and Hawaii.
The FBI Indianapolis Field Office indicated Schaffer, who allegedly sprayed Capitol police with bear spray, faces six federal charges:
- “Knowingly Entering or Remaining in any Restricted Building or Grounds Without Lawful Authority”
- “Disrupting the Orderly Conduct of Government Business”
- “Knowingly Engages in an Act of Physical Violence Against any Person or Property in any Restricted Building or Grounds”
- “Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building”
- “Engage in an Act of Physical Violence in a Capitol Building”
- “Parade, Demonstrate, or Picket in a Capitol Building”
Following his arrest, The New York Times reported that authorities believed Schaffer to be a member of the Oath Keepers, an organized, far-right militia group known as the Oath Keepers who planned the invasion of the building in advance, and can be seen wearing an Oath Keepers hat in photos from the insurrection. Days later, however, the Indiana chapter of the Oath Keepers released a statement in which they asserted that Schaffer is not a member of their organization.
Iced Earth vocalist Stu Block (ex-Into Eternity), bassist Luke Appleton, and guitarist Jake Dreyer (Witherfall) have since all announced their departure from Iced Earth. Vocalist Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) quit Schaffer’s other project, Demons & Wizards, earlier this month. Both of those bands no longer appear on the current or former artist pages of Schaffer’s longtime label, Century Media. The label has yet to issue a formal statement as to whether or not they’ve dropped the two acts.
Schaffer has been quite open about his far-right political views for years, openly discussing his mistrust of government (with a special emphasis on the federal reserve), asserting his belief that Trump’s loss in the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election was tipped by illegal immigrants, speaking out in favor of arming teachers to prevent school shootings, and claiming that COVID-19 is a hoax.