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Citing terrorism, US seeks 15-year sentence for first defendant in January 6 trial

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U.S. prosecutors asked a judge on Friday to sentence the first Capitol riot defendant sentenced in the trial to 15 years in prison, following through for the first time on threats to seek tougher terrorism sentences for those who reject the plea agreements on January 6, 2021, attack on Congress.

The application for Guy W. Reffitt, a recruiter for the extremist Three Percenters movement who led rioters on Capitol Hill, is about a third longer than the nine to 11 years recommended by federal advisory guidelines.

Reffitt was found guilty on March 8 of five criminal offenses, including obstructing the meeting of Congress to certify the 2020 presidential election, interfering with police and carrying a firearm during a riot, and the threat from his teenage son who turned him over to the FBI.

The defense for Reffitt, a 49-year-old former oil rig manager, requested a less than guideline sentence of two years in prison. But Assistant U.S. Prosecutors Jeffrey S. Nestler and Risa Berkower have called for a sentence that would be about three times longer than any sentence handed down to date in a Jan. 6 felony case, calling his case exceptional.

“Reffitt sought not only to shut down Congress, but also to physically attack, remove and replace lawmakers who served in Congress,” prosecutors wrote. They called his conduct “a quintessential example of an intent to both influence and retaliate against government conduct through intimidation or coercion”, the legal definition of terrorist violence carrying harsher penalties. .

Reffitt ‘played a pivotal role’ leading a vigilante mob that defied and overran police at a key choke point, they wrote in a 58-page sentencing memo, and the rules conventional sentencing methods are “inadequate in scope” to take into account the range of his offences.

A jury found that Reffitt traveled to DC from his home in Wylie, Texas with an AR-15 style rifle and a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun and repeatedly stated his intention to come armed with a handgun and plastic handcuffs to get the lawmakers out. of the building. After returning from Washington, he threatened his children not to report him to the authorities.

The request from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in DC, which oversees the prosecution of approximately 835 Capitol Headquarters defendants indicted by the federal government so far, is not binding on Reffitt’s August 1 sentencing in court. of U.S. District Dabney L. Friedrich.

The longest sentence in a Jan. 6 case handed down so far is about five years for a Florida man who pleaded guilty to attacking police with a fire extinguisher and a wooden plank.

Prosecutors may be hoping the judge in Reffitt’s trial sends a clear signal to the roughly 330 defendants who are still awaiting felony trials and may still be considering accepting a plea deal or playing in front of a jury. About 70 people pleaded guilty and 10, including Reffitt, were convicted at trial.

Some congressional Democrats have pressed Justice Department officials to explain why prosecutors did not seek harsher sentences in the Jan. 6 cases by seeking terrorism enhancements. They pointed to remarks this year from Attorney General Merrick Garland, who suggested such improvements could come as prosecutors secure convictions in more serious cases.

“This attack, this siege, was criminal behavior, plain and simple, and it is behavior that we in the FBI consider to be domestic terrorism,” FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told the commission. Senate Judiciary in March 2021, warning that the Capitol riot had emboldened some actors and that the problem of homegrown violent extremism “metastasized.”

Defense attorneys slam the threat of enforcing such enhancements in plea talks as coercive, calling them a “nuclear option” because prosecutors can increase sentencing guidelines by 50% or more, even for offenses not designated by law. However, the final decision rests with the judges in all cases, regardless of the recommendation.

Reffitt’s attorney, F. Clinton Broden, urged Friedrich to weigh his client’s unique circumstances, view his actions as an “aberration,” and avoid sentencing disparities with defendants already convicted of crimes on Jan. 6 and convicted of violent assaults on police or bringing more guns to Washington.

Reffitt left home at 15, moved in with his older sister and started working as a KFC dishwasher after enduring years of physical abuse from his father, who used “[b]elts, switches and sometimes slaps or fists,” Broden wrote. After becoming a father himself, Broden said, Reffitt was devoted to his children and creating safe spaces for others. Reffitt, his lawyer said, was a self-made man who took his family overseas while working in places like Malaysia in charge of operations worth tens of millions of dollars, but was devastated financially and emotionally after a downturn in the oil and gas industry. . He lost his job in November 2019 as the pandemic hit.

Reffitt’s daughters remarked that “[h]his mental health was in decline” during this period, Broden wrote. Reffitt fell “down the rabbit hole of political news and online banter,” wrote one of his daughters, and he fell into the thrall of Donald Trump “constantly fueling polarizing racial thinking.”

“I could really see how my father[‘]His ego’s ego and personality fell to his knees when President Trump spoke, you could tell he was listening to Trump’s words like he was really really talking to him,” his daughter said.

Numerous letters from nine friends and relatives produced in court by Reffitt’s defense “describe a depressed man who believed he was unable to provide for his family (his life’s mission) and a man who felt side and marginalized,” Broden said.

Reffitt started a security firm and joined the Three Percenters in Texas, a right-wing anti-government group named after the myth that only 3% of the colonists fought in the American Revolution against the British.

At the Capitol, Reffitt never entered the building, drew his sidearm or committed violence, his attorney said. Without condoning Reffitt’s “paranoid statements” to his children, Broden maintained that he never gave any indication that he would actually harm them.

Reffitt also spent 19 months in unusually harsh pretrial conditions in the decrepit DC jail, spending about half that time under 22 or 23 hours a day of pandemic-related closures in his cell, his lawyer argued. .

“The fundamental question to be answered is whether Mr. Reffitt, who engaged in no violence, threw no objects at the police, attacked the police with no weapon”, and who did not enter the Capitol or violate for a long time “to be treated the same as those who did?” Broden asked.

In a letter to the judge, Reffitt described a series of family traumas since 2020, including medical and mental health emergencies, and pleaded for clemency for the sake of his family.

“My regrets for what happened are insurmountable. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret how much it affected [my wife and kids]”, wrote Refitt. “Yes, what is happening to my family is completely my fault, I would like to fix it please. … I am just asking for a chance to prove myself again.

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