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Judge in Trump election interference case rejects ‘hostage’ label for defendants jailed Jan. 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Judge overseeing former president Donald TrumpTrump’s election interference case on Wednesday rejected the notion that jailed defendants charged with some of the most violent crimes in the U.S. Capitol riot are “hostages” — a label Trump and his allies have frequently used to describe prisoners.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said the Capitol riot defendants who remain imprisoned in Washington, D.C., do not deserve to be called hostages or heroes for their actions during the mob attack on 6 January 2021.

“They’re being held there because they’re dangerous people,” Chutkan said during the sentencing hearing for Antony Vo, a man convicted of storming the Capitol with his mother .

During his trial, Vo attended a nighttime vigil organized by supporters of the Jan. 6 riot defendants outside the Washington prison. The judge previously ruled that Vo’s presence at the vigil violated a condition of his release.

Chutkan rolled her eyes and shook her head when she learned from a prosecutor at Wednesday’s hearing that vigil organizers call their gathering place outside the prison “Freedom Corner.”

“Is that what it’s called?” Freedom Corner? » asked the judge, sounding incredulous.

At a November 2023 campaign event in Houston, Trump referred to jailed riot defendants as “J6 hostages, not prisoners.” Trump’s campaign rallies began with a recording of riot defendants jailed at the Capitol singing the national anthem. spoke at a fundraiser for the Jan. 6 defendants.

“I’m going to do my part,” Trump said. “There have been few people in the history of our country who have been treated like the people you love, like the people who have endured so much.”

Trump’s trial in Washington on election interference charges was scheduled to begin March 4, but Chutkan agreed to put the case on hold while the former president continues to claim he is immune from prosecution. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in favor of Trump’s appeal later this month.

Chutkan did not mention Trump by name during Wednesday’s hearing, during which she sentenced Vo to nine months in prison. A jury found Vo guilty of four counts of riot-related crimes. His mother was also charged with crimes related to January 6.

More than 1,300 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. The vast majority of them remained at large while awaiting trial or a plea deal to resolve their case.

Chutkan told Vo, 31, of Bloomington, Ind., that he was lucky she didn’t order him jailed after his trial conviction. She said he had always refused to express remorse or accept responsibility for his conduct on January 6.

“He doubled down on his behavior,” she said.

Before learning of his sentence, Vo said he was “sorry for everything” and knew he should not have entered the Capitol on January 6.

“I wasn’t there to subvert a democratic process or anything,” he told the judge.

In his bio for a social media account, Vo called himself a “wrongfully convicted J6.” In an article posted after his trial, he wrote that “there was no jury of peers and a 100% kangaroo court.”

“I was called worse,” Chutkan said, emphasizing that she was not punishing Vo for her insult or her political beliefs.

“I have thick skin,” the judge added.

Chutkan emerged as one of the harshest punishers of the Capitol rioters, often handing down prison sentences harsher than prosecutors recommended. Vo’s lawyer, Carmen Hernandez, told Chutkan that she appears to be an “exception” compared to the other judges who sentenced the defendants on January 6.

“Maybe I’m an exception, as Ms. Hernandez suggests. I don’t necessarily think so,” Chutkan said.


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