After an hours-long hearing, a federal judge sentenced the first person convicted for a felony in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach to eight months in prison.
Tampa crane operator Paul Allard Hodgkins, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing a joint session of Congress meeting to confirm the results of the 2020 presidential election on June 2.
While others stood over the vice president’s abandoned chair, he was seen carrying a red-and-white “Trump 2020” flag.
“The symbolism of that act was unmistakable,” U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss said in sentencing Hodgkins. “He was staking a claim on the floor of the U.S. Senate not with an American flag, but declaring his loyalty to a single individual over the nation. In that act, he captured the threat to democracy that we all witnessed that day.”
The judge reiterated that the riots did far greater damage than delay Congress’s tallying of the electoral votes a few hours. They “left a stain that will remain on our nation for decades,” one that will make it “harder for all of us to tell our children and grandchildren that democracy stands as the immutable foundation of our nation,” Moss said.
Hodgkins expressed remorse and regret for his actions, any damage they caused “and the way the country I love has been hurt.” He said he understood that even the presence of participants who, like him, remained peaceful “may have helped embolden others to carry out the destruction that occurred.”
“I do not and will not make any excuse, nor will I place any blame on any politician, journalist or otherwise,” Hodgkins said, saying he put “passion ahead of principle.” He added, “I completely acknowledge and respect that Joseph R. Biden is the rightful and respectful president of the United States.”
Prosecutors in the United States sought an 18-month prison sentence for Hodgkins, citing the need to deter domestic terrorism.
Hodgkins requested either probation or house arrest.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW...
“January 6th was genuinely an act of terrorism. . . . The need to preserve respect for the law is really at its pinnacle in a crime like this,” Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Sedky said in her 2 1/2 hour summation.
Sedky argued that an 18-month prison term “will send a loud and clear message” so that “people contemplating a follow-up to January 6th will stand down . . . and Mr. Hodgkins and other would-be rioters will be deterred and turn back, and so it won’t happen again and again and again.”
Patrick N. Leduc, Hodgkins’ attorney, responded by blasting the government’s terrorism claim and warning that a harsh sentence would further divide the country.
Leduc urged Moss to remember President Abraham Lincoln’s words from his second inaugural address and to demonstrate grace that each side of the partisan divide would claim for itself and deny the other.
Calling the Capitol breach “domestic terrorism” is “offensive and gaslighting the country, and it needs to stop. . . . It was a protest that became a riot, period, full stop,” Leduc said.
The attorney attempted to compare the Jan. 6 riot to the violence that marred some racial-justice protests in Minneapolis and Portland, Ore. in 2020.
He also cited the First Amendment, telling the judge, “We need to be very careful.”
But he was cut off by Moss, who said that while he wasn’t sentencing Hodgkins based on the actions of others, “I don’t think that any plausible argument can be made defending what happened at the Capitol as an example of the First Amendment.”
“There were people storming through the halls of the Capitol, shouting, ‘Where’s Nancy?’ ” Moss said. “There were people threatening the lives of members of Congress. There were members of Congress fleeing for their lives. This was more than a simple riot.”
The judge added: “The chambers of Congress were emptied during the most solemn act in a democracy, of certifying who the next president is going to be, by an angry mob. . . . This was not an exercise of First Amendment rights.”
Authorities claim that the six-hour riot contributed to five deaths, nearly 140 police officers being injured, terrorizing lawmakers and staffers, and causing $1.5 million in damage.
Approximately 540 of the estimated 800 people who entered the Capitol building have been charged. Hodgkins was one of about 50 people who made their way to the Senate floor, which Sedky described as the “heart” and “core” of where Congress was carrying out its statutory and constitutional responsibility to confirm the president’s victory.
The figure to prosecute the indicted has already been much higher.
Both sides and the judge acknowledged that Hodgkins’ sentencing could set the standard for what punishment 100 or more defendants charged with obstructing Congress might expect to face as they decide whether to accept prosecutors’ plea offers or risk a jury trial.
Approximately 20 people have pleaded guilty. One defendant facing a misdemeanor charge was sentenced to probation, while another was sentenced to six months in prison for time served.