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Possibility of new plea deal raised in case of Ruskin gyrocopter pilot

The Ruskin mail carrier who flew a gyrocopter onto the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to protest campaign finance reform has added a new lawyer to his defense team.

In a routine hearing Thursday morning, a federal judge permitted Doug Hughes to retain Mark Goldstone, an attorney specializing in First Amendment issues. Goldstone will represent Hughes alongside a federal public defender, Tony Miles.

Hughes is accused of six federal crimes, including violation of national defense airspace, aircraft registration violations and operating a vehicle falsely labeled as a postal carrier.

The possibility of a plea deal also rose once again in Thursday's hearing, but Hughes said such an agreement is unlikely.

"In my opinion, that's not going to happen," he said after the hearing.

Having already rejected a deal offered by prosecutors in July, Hughes said he would be open to one that includes no jail time.

His lawyers said they are still expecting the case to go to trial. If convicted, Hughes could get as much as 9 1/2 years in prison.

Hughes, 61, made national headlines April 15, when he took off in a gyrocopter from Gettysburg, Pa., intending to fly to the Capitol to deliver letters about campaign finance reform to each member of Congress. He broadcast a live video of his flight on his website.

When he landed, he was arrested by Capitol Police.

Hughes has said he may pursue a "necessity defense" to justify violating the restricted airspace around Washington D.C. If a judge permits it, the defense would allow Hughes to make his trial less about aircraft regulations and more about the influence of big money in politics.

There was no discussion in Thursday's hearing about whether Hughes will be allowed to use the defense.

Widely used in courts nationwide, the necessity defense is generally considered a justification for a crime committed in an emergency. In such a situation, the harm would have been more severe if the crime had not occurred. In recent years, protestors have increasingly invoked the defense in cases of civil disobedience.

Hughes sought to help pay for Goldstone's services with funds raised from supporters of his cause. Before Thursday, it was unclear if Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly would permit him to do that.

Goldstone said after the hearing that Hughes exposed flaws in air security, which could be another potential angle of his defense. He accused the government of retaliating against Hughes for the exposure.

"Since 9/11, how much have they spent on security?" he asked. "Do we really have air security on the East Coast?"

A congressional committee earlier this month issued a report criticizing law enforcement's response to Hughes' stunt. The report specifically faulted the U.S. Secret Service and Capitol Police. Secret Service agents interviewed Hughes about his intentions more than two years before the flight. The report also noted technological limitations that prevented authorities from tracking Hughes' flight while he was in the air.

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