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A Florida crane operator has been sentenced to 8 months behind bars for his role in the Capitol Riot, making him the first person to receive a felony sentence connected to the events of Jan. 6.
Before his punishment was handed down, Paul Allard Hodgkins, 38, apologized for his actions on the U.S. Senate Chamber floor on Jan. 6, saying he had gotten swept up in the moment alongside other protesters who stormed the Capitol, according to the Associated Press.
“If I had any idea that the protest…would escalate (the way) it did…I would never have ventured further than the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said. “This was a foolish decision on my part. “
The sentence, which is expected to set the tone for what could be expected for hundreds of defendants facing similar charges, was less than the 18 months prosecutors had hoped for. Prosecutors had argued that Hodgkins' actions—while not violent—had “contributed to a collected threat of democracy.”
Judge Randolph Moss agreed that Hodgkins had participated in an “assault on democracy,” but still opted to sentence him to just 8 months behind bars.
“It left a stain that will remain on us…on the country, for years to come,” Moss said of the impact of the insurrection.
Hodgkins burst into the U.S. Senate chamber on Jan. 6 —along with hundreds of others—carrying a Trump campaign flag and posing for selfies on the Senate floor as terrified members of Congress were forced to evacuate the joint session and seek refuge under desks and huddle in nearby offices, according to the news outlet.
More than 500 people have been charged to date in connection with the riot that took place while Congress was meeting to certify the 2020 election results. A additional 100 people are expected to be charged at some point in the future, according to The Washington Post.
In Hodgkins’ case, the 38-year-old pleaded guilty last month to obstruction of an official proceeding after prosecutors said he entered the U.S. Capitol building around 2:50 p.m. on Jan. 6 wearing eye goggles and carrying the Trump flag, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Authorities said Hodgkins walked into the Senate chamber, removed his eye goggles and took a selfie with other protesters on the dais, while others nearby shouted, prayed, and cheered.
Hodgkins’ attorney had pleaded for leniency in the case and asked the judge forgo a prison sentence altogether in the case, arguing instead that the shame he’d face for the rest of his life would be punishment enough.
“Whatever punishment this court may provide will pale in comparison to the scarlet letter Mr. Hodgkins will wear for the rest of his life,” Patrick N. Leduc wrote in a court filing, according to the Associated Press.
He compared his client’s case to that of Anna Morgan Floyd, 49, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of disorderly conduct for her role in the riot and was sentenced to three years of probation.
Leduc also cited his client’s good deeds in the community, saying he regularly volunteered at a food bank in Florida and was once an Eagle Scout.
Prosecutors agreed he deserved some leniency because he willingly took responsibility for his role in the riot and was never accused of causing destruction, but still believed he should face the stiffer punishment of 18 months in prison.
“The need to deter others is especially strong in cases involving domestic terrorism, which the breach of the Capitol certainly was,” Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Sedky said in a sentencing request obtained by The Washington Post.
In court Monday, Sedky added that the riot had left those at the Capitol that day with “emotional scars for many years—if not forever,” the Associated Press reports.
Hodgkins left his home in Tampa on Jan. 6 bound for Washington D.C.. He was carrying rope, protective goggles and latex gloves, authorities said.
Once in Washington D.C., prosecutors said he made his way to the Capitol despite smashed police barriers, police officers trying to prevent the violence, and smashed windows.
“Time and time again, rather than turn around and retreat, Hodgkins pressed forward,” prosecutors said in court documents filed in the case.
Hodgkins could have faced a maximum of 20 years in prison under the federal sentencing guidelines.
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