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Jan. 6 rioters face years in jail for ransacking Capitol. Harsher penalties loom for more violent defendants

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WASHINGTON – Paul Hodgkins, a 38-year-old Tampa, Florida, man, dodged the violence that surrounded him during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot before spending 15 minutes in the Senate chamber, meandering the room with a Trump flag and snapping selfies.

Now, Hodgkins could land in prison for more than a year, after becoming one of the first four defendants to plead guilty to felonies in the attack. Sentencing guidelines in three other felony agreements call for terms of at least three to five years. Another eight people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors that could lock them up for six months.

Prosecutions of the hundreds charged in the riot are just getting started, offering Americans an initial look at just how severe the punishments will be for those who stormed the Capitol more than six months ago. The first dozen plea bargains reveal defendants could spend years behind bars for ransacking the historic building – and legal experts say harsher penalties loom for those who assaulted police and destroyed property.

Supporters loyal to President Donald Trump clash with authorities before successfully breaching the Capitol building during a riot on the grounds, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. A number of lawmakers and then the mob of protesters tried to overturn America's presidential election, undercutting the nation's democracy by attempting to keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.
Supporters loyal to President Donald Trump clash with authorities before successfully breaching the Capitol building during a riot on the grounds, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.... Supporters loyal to President Donald Trump clash with authorities before successfully breaching the Capitol building during a riot on the grounds, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. A number of lawmakers and then the mob of protesters tried to overturn America's presidential election, undercutting the nation's democracy by attempting to keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.
John Minchillo, AP

The agreements also illustrate that federal prosecutors are playing hardball, using the threat of harsh sentences and requirements for cooperating to convict others, according to legal experts.

“The federal system has notoriously long sentences – the guidelines are famously draconian,” said Erin Murphy, a law professor at New York University, who called the sentencing guidelines “run of the mill” for joining a mob to contest the election and break into a federal building.

Sentences could be reduced by defendants who cooperate with prosecutors, as required by the agreements with the three members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary group. Also, judges in the District of Columbia tend to issue sentences shorter than the guidelines more than one-third of the time.

But initial plea agreements didn't cover the most serious crimes on Jan. 6, and aimed for cooperation to convict organizers or more violent rioters. Longer sentences would be expected for those convicted of assaulting police and destroying property, according to legal experts.

“I would certainly expect that judges would be very concerned about assaults on law enforcement," said Ian Weinstein, a law professor at Fordham University who has practiced federal law for decades. “I would think that an assault on a police officer is something in my experience that judges take very seriously when sentencing people." 

Erin Murphy, law professor at New York University
The federal system has notoriously long sentences – the guidelines are famously draconian.

About 140 police officers were injured during the melee that temporarily halted Congress counting Electoral College votes. The disruption led to charges of obstruction of an official proceeding, which carries a 20-year maximum sentence. Dozens of conspiracy charges were based on planning for the attack through encrypted messages, military-style training and wearing helmets and reinforced vests.

At least 535 people were charged in the first six months after the attack, with 165 accused of assaulting, resisting or impeding officers, according to the Justice Department. More than 50 people are charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon, or causing serious bodily injury to an officer, the department said.

Felonies carry multiyear sentences

The felony plea agreements came in cases that described defendants planning for the attack through encrypted software, transporting firearms to the D.C. area, joining the mob that broke into the Capitol, and standing inside the Senate chamber. Some of the defendants barged their way past police to enter the building. But the average time that each of the four defendants spent inside the Capitol ranged from four to 20 minutes.

Plea agreements so far include:

Graydon Young
Graydon Young
U.S. Department of Justice
  • Graydon Young, 54, of Englewood, Florida, pleaded guilty June 23 to conspiracy and obstruction of Congress. Sentencing guidelines call for 63 months to 78 months in prison and a fine of at least $25,000. Young, who wore a reinforced vest and helmet while carrying a radio, entered the Capitol in a military "stack" formation. He was part of a group pushing “against a line of riot police officers guarding the hallway connecting the Rotunda to the Senate,” according to the agreement. He was in the Capitol for 20 minutes.
  • Mark Grods, 54, of Mobile, Alabama, pleaded guilty June 30 to conspiracy and obstruction of Congress. Sentencing guidelines call for 51 to 63 months in prison and a fine of at least $20,000. Grods, who acknowledged coordinating with other Oath Keepers, brought a shotgun, semi-automatic handgun and ammunition for a co-conspirator to store at a Virginia hotel. Grods was charged with storming past police barricades in a "stack" formation. Grods was in the Capitol for about four minutes, before police deployed chemical irritants. He had participated in planning meetings on encrypted apps such as Signal and Zello in the days before Jan. 6 and later deleted messages.
  • Jon Schaffer, 53, of Columbus, Indiana, pleaded guilty April 13 to obstruction of an official proceeding and entering and remaining in a restricted building with a deadly or dangerous weapon. Sentencing guidelines call for 41 to 51 months in prison and a fine of at least $15,000. Schaffer, a founding, lifetime member of Oath Keepers, was part of a mob that broke open Capitol doors guarded by four police officers wearing riot gear. He left the building after about nine minutes.
  • Hodgkins pleaded guilty June 2 to obstruction of an official proceeding after being indicted on five charges. Sentencing is set for Monday, with guidelines calling for 15 to 21 months in prison and a fine of at least $4,000. Hodgkins told investigators that while walking through the Capitol, he saw other people breaking windows and engaging in a knife fight, and others who were injured, but that he didn't participate in that conduct, according to charging documents.
Rioters attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 in Washington.
Rioters attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 in Washington.
Julio Cortez/AP

“Almost always, federal charges carry very significant potential sentences of incarceration,” Weinstein said.

Judges could take into consideration “relevant conduct” at sentencing, such as Young, Grods and Schaffer being members of the Oath Keepers, a group whose members are recruited from former members of the military and law enforcement.

“Of course, the purposes of punishment are not just to punish the actor for what they did, but also to send a strong deterrent message to others who might consider such actions in the future,” Murphy said.

Cooperation yields shorter sentences

Some defendants, such as Jake Angeli, who wore horns and face paint on Jan. 6, have already spent months behind bars awaiting trial. But sentences could be shorter than the guidelines suggest, if defendants cooperate with prosecutors to convict others.

At least 16 Oath Keepers are charged in the attack. Three Oath Keepers who pleaded guilty so far – Grods, Schaffer and Young – each agreed to turn over evidence of crimes they are aware of, to testify in court and potentially to participate in covert law enforcement. Judges will weigh that cooperation when deciding prison terms.

“If these are guideline calculations in cooperation cases, then the guideline range has less meaning than it would in other contexts,” Weinstein said.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. SAUL LOEB, AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Erin Murphy, law professor at New York University
Of course, the purposes of punishment are not just to punish the actor for what they did, but also to send a strong deterrent message to others who might consider such actions in the future.

Judges could also simply impose shorter terms. Federal judges imposed sentences shorter than guidelines in 24.5% of cases nationwide, according to a 2020 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. In the District of Columbia, federal judges imposed shorter sentences 38.9% of the time, according to the commission.

“At least one could infer that judges see the guidelines as relatively harsh because they often give sentences below the guideline range,” Weinstein said. “The actual sentence imposed will turn very much on the individual defendant’s conduct and characteristics, and the vigor of the prosecutor’s advocacy at the time of sentencing.”

Defendants also each agreed to restitution, to help pay for $1.5 million damage to the Capitol. Young, Grods and Hodgkins each agreed to pay $2,000 restitution, and Schaffer's hasn't been set.

Even misdemeanors can mean jail time

The misdemeanor “parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building” has become a catchall charge for minor cases in the riot. Eight defendants pleaded guilty to this single charge, while numerous other charges, including felonies, were stripped away. The misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Six misdemeanor defendants await sentencing. Most spent just a few minutes inside the building to take pictures or video without attacking anyone or destroying anything.

First person sentenced in Capitol riot, no jail time
Newsy, Newsy

Bryan Wayne Ivey, 28, of Crossville, Tennessee, watched another rioter break through a window using a riot shield, and then he entered the building through the window.

Robert Maurice Reeder, 55, of Harford County, Maryland, recorded an assault against an officer.

“I got gassed several times inside the Capitol, many times outside the Capitol," Reeder said in one video. "We had to do…ah…battle with police inside. It was crazy…absolutely insane.”

Two defendants have been sentenced for misdemeanors, reflecting the most and least they could have received.

Michael Thomas Curzio, who was arrested in Summerfield, Florida, was sentenced Monday to the full six months after being detained that long while awaiting trial. He had previously served an eight-year sentence ending in 2019 for attempted murder.

Anna Morgan-Lloyd, 49, of Bloomfield, Indiana, was sentenced to three years of probation and $500 for restitution. She had been jailed for two days between her arrest and initial court appearance.

The sentences capped a saga for those who described an exhilarating day of protest, but one that ended with federal convictions and penalties. Morgan-Lloyd had called Jan. 6 "the most exciting day of my life," which included about five minutes inside the Capitol, but she said at sentencing she was ashamed of the violence unleashed.

“Some of my defendants in some of these other cases think there’s no consequence to this, and there is a consequence,” District Judge Royce Lamberth said at Morgan-Lloyd's sentencing.

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