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1st Capitol rioter to stand trial gets 7 years, the longest sentence for a Jan. 6 defendant so far

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Jason Marz/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — A federal judge on Monday sentenced the first Capitol rioter convicted at trial to 87 months, or just over seven years in prison — the longest term of incarceration thus far for a defendant in the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of the Jan. 6 assault on Congress.

Guy Wesley Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, was convicted by a federal jury in March of five felony counts, including obstruction of justice as well as entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a firearm.

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice had asked that Reffitt be sentenced to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors had also — for the first time — asked a federal district court judge to apply a terrorism enhancement, which would effectively define under law that a rioter’s actions amounted to domestic terrorism.

“We do believe that what he was doing that day was domestic terrorism and we do believe that he’s a domestic terrorist,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said Monday.

But the judge overseeing Reffitt’s case, Dabney Friedrich, turned down the request, saying that there have been multiple other defendants from the Jan. 6 attack where DOJ chose not to pursue the terrorism enhancement, despite their conduct appearing to be much more serious and threatening than what Reffitt was convicted of at trial.

Reffitt’s attorney, Clinton Broden, argued the DOJ was unfairly seeking to make an example of Reffitt simply because he took his case to trial.

“This is the only case where the government has asked for the terrorism enhancement, and this is the only case where the defendant has gone to trial,” Broden said. “I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure that out.”

Reffitt is among the more than 850 people who have been charged in connection with the deadly breach of the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, which disrupted a joint session of Congress convened to ascertain and count the electoral votes related to the 2020 presidential election. Over 200 defendants have already pleaded guilty to a variety of misdemeanors and felony charges, with some being sentenced to years in federal prison.

Reffitt’s attorney, Clinton Broden, asked that his client be sentenced to no more than two years. He said he was shocked by the prosecution’s recommendation, since his client wasn’t accused of entering the Capitol or assaulting any police officers that day.

“It’s absolutely absurd,” Broden told The Associated Press during a telephone interview last month. “I certainly don’t condone what Mr. Reffitt did. And I think everybody realizes the seriousness of the offenses. But at the same point, there has to be some proportionality here.”

Federal sentencing guidelines in Reffitt’s case called for a prison sentence ranging from nine years to 11 years and three months.

During the trial, prosecutors sought to cast Reffitt, a member of the Texas Three Percenters militia group, as a ringleader of one of the first waves of the mob that breached the Capitol from the building’s west side.

Videos played in court showed Reffitt climbing a stone banister near where scaffolding had been put up in advance of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, and Reffitt confronting U.S. Capitol Police officers who warned him to back down before they fired less-than-lethal ammunition and pepper spray to stop his advance. Other videos presented in court showed Reffitt gesturing to the crowd behind him in what appeared to be an attempt to get them to move up the stairs toward multiple entryways that lead into the building.

At one point in the trial, prosecutors played first-person footage that Reffitt had recorded with a 360-degree camera mounted on his helmet while in the crowd at the “Save America” rally prior to the attack.

“We’re taking the Capitol before the day is out,” Reffitt says in the video. “Everybody is in the same harmony on that … dragging ’em out kicking and f***ing screaming.”

“I didn’t come here to play games … I just want to see Pelosi’s head hit every f***ing stair on the way out,” he says later. “I think we have the numbers to make it happen … without firing a single shot.”

The Justice Department’s case also relied on two key witnesses: Rocky Hardie, a former member of the Texas Three Percenters, who testified against Reffitt in exchange for immunity to cooperate, and Reffitt’s 19-year-old son, Jackson, who submitted an online tip to the FBI first alerting them to his father’s plans weeks before the riot, ultimately leading to Reffitt’s arrest on Jan. 16, 2021.

During an interview with ABC News from jail last December, Reffitt said he “never expected anything like this to happen.”

“This has been disastrous for me and my family, especially for my girls, my son — actually, all of my family,” Reffitt told ABC News

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