Judge rejects sentence of terrorism conviction in January 6 case
Federal prosecutors’ first request to impose a harsher sentence on a Jan. 6 defendant by labeling his actions as domestic terrorism failed Monday after a federal judge refused to apply the harsher sentencing guidelines allowed by federal law in such cases.
U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich said applying sentencing enhancement to Guy Reffitt, 49, would create ‘unwarranted sentencing disparity’ with other cases involving threats or behavior similar related to the Capitol Riot.
“There are a lot of cases where the defendants had weapons or committed very violent assaults,” Friedrich noted, pointing out that the harshest sentences handed down in the Jan. 6 cases so far were just over five years, while prosecutors have asked for a 15-year sentence. one-year sentence against Reffitt. “The government is asking for a sentence three times longer than any other defendant and the defendant did not assault an officer.”
Reffitt, a member of the Texas Three Percenters militia, became the first defendant on January 6 to appear before a jury and was found guilty on all five counts he faced. Evidence and trial testimony showed that he had traveled to Washington with an acquaintance the day before the riot, taking with him two AR-15 rifles and a pistol. The jury found he had the gun on his hip as he engaged in a tense standoff with police on the Capitol’s west front. Reffitt was pelted with less-lethal weapons and tear gas as he tried to climb the steps, waving the crowd forward, but he never entered the building itself.
As the sentencing hearing dragged into its fourth hour on Monday, Friedrich had yet to announce a sentence in the case. In theory, Reffitt could receive up to 60 years, but defendants are usually sentenced under federal guidelines to sentences well below the maximum.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said Reffitt’s discussions before and after Jan. 6 made it clear he intended to follow through on his repeated threats to forcibly drag out Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the minority leader. in the Senate Mitch McConnell of the Capitol building. In filmed discussions, Reffitt was recorded referring to his desire to listen to the legislator’s heads bouncing on the steps of the Capitol.
“He planned to overtake our government. He wasn’t just trying to stop certification,” Nestler said. “He hadn’t finished. January 6 was just a preface. … Mr. Reffitt is in a class of his own.”
However, Friedrich said prosecutors have asked for much shorter sentences in cases involving people directly involved in actual violence against police.
“You’re making recommendations that are very different from what you’re making in this case — very different,” said the judge, a President Donald Trump appointee.
Friedrich also said she feared Reffitt was being unduly punished for deciding to go to trial, rather than entering into a plea bargain with prosecutors.
“His decision to exercise his constitutional right to stand trial should not result in a radically different sentence,” she said.
Nestler also noted that Reffitt was convicted of having a handgun on his hip while on Capitol grounds, which Friedrich admitted was an important distinction from to the other cases to achieve conviction so far.
“Huge, huge…and is the gun worth treble if it hasn’t been brandished or used in any way?” asked the judge.
Another unusual aspect of Reffitt’s case is that he was convicted of threatening to harm his two children if they discussed his actions on Jan. 6 with authorities. One of those children, Peyton Reffitt, spoke briefly at Monday’s hearing to urge clemency for her father. She suggested that Trump was more responsible for the events that day than his father was.
“My dad’s name wasn’t on all the flags that were there that day and everybody was carrying that day,” Peyton said. “He was not the leader.”
Repeatedly during Monday’s hearing, Friedrich hinted that she believed Reffitt suffered from delusions of grandeur and that her decision to go to trial earlier this year was part of her efforts to position herself as a as leader of those who fought against the certification of the election.
“He wants to be the big guy — the first to try to storm the Capitol, the first to stand trial,” Judge said. “Obviously that’s what he wants.”
Reffitt’s attorney, Clinton Broden, acknowledged that at times his client was in the front row of the crowd on the Capitol’s west front. However, the defense attorney argued that the angry mob was determined to rush towards the building whether Reffitt waved at them or not.
“These people would have walked up the stairs regardless of Mr. Reffitt and I think we all know that,” Broden said.