The North Carolina man charged with firing an assault rifle inside a Washington restaurant that conspiracy theorists falsely claim harbored a child-sex-ring conspiracy is expected to plead guilty in a deal offered by federal prosecutors, lawyers for both sides said Wednesday.
The attorney for Edgar Maddison Welch said the Salisbury, North Carolina, man had accepted “in principle” a deal that would allow him to avoid a trial in a high-profile case that thrust fake news and internet conspiracy theories into the national spotlight.
Neither Dani Jahn, Welch’s federal public defender, nor Assistant U.S. Attorney Demian Ahn disclosed details of the agreement during Wednesday’s brief proceeding before U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The judge ordered the attorneys to submit final terms to her by Monday and set a March 24 plea bargain hearing date.
Welch has been behind bars since Dec. 4 after he allegedly drove from Salisbury to Washington’s Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant to investigate a bogus conspiracy theory that linked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to an alleged child sex-trafficking ring inside the eatery.
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He pleaded not guilty to a federal count of transporting a firearm and ammunition across state lines and to District of Columbia charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during a commission of violence.
According to court papers and police reports, Welch entered the restaurant brandishing an AR-15 assault rifle and packing a .38 revolver, weapons that were confiscated after his arrest.
Welch “searched for evidence of hidden rooms or tunnels, or child sex-trafficking of any kind” inside the restaurant, FBI Special Agent Justin Holgate said in an affidavit.
Welch became frustrated when he encountered a locked door, Holgate said in the affidavit, adding that he fired his rifle to try to open it. “When that proved unsuccessful, he climbed furniture to look into the closed-off room,” Holgate reported, adding that Welch “found that it was unoccupied.”