Federal authorities call for tougher sentences for veterans who stormed Capitol Hill | New policies

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press

During his 27 years in the United States Army, Leonard Gruppo joined the Special Forces, served in four war zones and led a team of combat medics in Iraq before retiring in 2013 as a lieutenant. colonel.

During his six minutes inside the United States Capitol on January 6, Gruppo joined a host of other military veterans as a mob of pro-Trump rioters led an unprecedented assault on the stronghold of American democracy. He is one of dozens of ex-combatants and active service indicted in connection with the insurgency.

Now cases like his pose a thorny question to federal judges when they convict veterans who stormed Capitol Hill: Do they deserve clemency because they served their country or a harsher sentence because they swore to defend it?

The Department of Justice has adopted the latter position. In at least five cases so far, prosecutors have cited a rioter’s military service as a weighty factor in favor of a prison sentence or house arrest. Prosecutors have repeatedly argued that the veterans’ service, while laudable, made their actions on January 6 more egregious.

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The involvement of veterans in the riot was particularly shocking as some of them apparently used the training they received in the US military against their own government to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. Several veterans are among the far-right extremists accused of plotting coordinated attacks on the Capitol, including members of Oath Keepers who climbed the Capitol steps in a “pile” formation used by military infantry.

Prosecutors ‘arguments over the rioters’ military service did not sway one of the first judges to hear them – at Gruppo’s sentencing hearing last Friday.

“I don’t see his military service that way. I just can’t bring myself to do this, ”U.S. District Chief Justice Beryl Howell said before sentencing Gruppo to two years probation, including 90 days of house arrest.

A prosecutor argued that Gruppo’s military service supported the Justice Department’s recommendation of a 30-day prison sentence. US Assistant Lawyer Hava Mirell said Gruppo, 56, of New Mexico, was trained to recognize the obvious danger on Capitol Hill and “help rather than harm.”

“But the fact that he received this training and the fact that he intentionally ignored his oath to commit one of the most destructive acts against our Constitution and our democracy, it affects the government’s view of his conduct. “she said.

Defense lawyer Daniel Lindsey has argued that his client’s service to the country should not be used against him. He said Gruppo initially wanted to remain silent about his military service because he felt he had dishonored him.

“And he did,” Howell interjected. “Let’s not mince words. “

But the judge said she was surprised at the Justice Department’s position because she believes most Americans would have “enormous respect” for Gruppo’s service.

“And it’s not just because I grew up on military bases around the world,” Howell added.

In most criminal cases, judges generally view an accused’s military service as a mitigating factor that promotes leniency, said James Markham, professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. . But he acknowledges how the Justice Department was able to conclude that rioters with military experience should be held to a higher standard than those without.

“This is obviously not directly related to their military service, but it is also not totally unrelated conceptually that a person who is a veteran or who has served in the military could be considered to have a more understanding. fine on the importance of civilian control and electoral stability, ”Markham said. , lawyer and air force veteran.

More than 650 people were charged in the January 6 attack. Some of the rioters facing the most serious charges, including members of far-right groups, have military backgrounds. A handful of riot accused were on active duty, including an Army reservist who wore a Hitler mustache at his job at a Navy base.

More than 100 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to offenses punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment. Two dozen were sentenced on Friday. At least three of the convicted defendants are veterans, according to an Associated Press review of court records.

In September, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg sentenced Air Force veteran Derek Jancart to 45 days in prison for joining the riot. Prosecutors had asked for a four-month jail sentence for Jancart, an Ohio steelworker.

“He took an oath to defend the country and instead participated in an attack on democracy itself,” said US Deputy Prosecutor Leslie Goemaat.

Jancart said he loved his country and was ashamed of his actions. The judge told Jancart he respects his military service, especially his deployment to Afghanistan, but said that was not the only factor to consider.

“You and others tried to undermine one of the fundamental acts of our country, namely the peaceful transfer of power following a democratic election,” said Boasberg.

Another Air Force veteran, Thomas Vinson, was sentenced on October 22 to five years of probation. Prosecutors had recommended three months of house arrest for Vinson, a Kentucky resident who served in the Air Force from 1984 to 1988.

Vinson, whose wife was also sentenced to probation for entering the Capitol on January 6, told U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton he loved his country and joined the military to defend it.

“I took an oath to the Constitution, and I know I broke that oath that day when I entered this building,” Vinson said.

At least two other rioters who served in the military are expected to be sentenced in the coming days.

Prosecutors have recommended two months in jail for Boyd Camper, who served in the US Marines from 1987 to 1990. The man from Montana told the FBI he believed he was on the “front line” and is entered a “combat” state of mind at the Capitol, where he used a camera with an extension cord to record himself inside the building, prosecutors said.

“His voluntary decision to storm a guarded government building is simply shocking in light of his former military service and training,” prosecutors wrote ahead of Camper’s October 12 conviction.

Prosecutors are asking for two months of house arrest for Air Force veteran Jonathan Ace Sanders Sr., who is due to be sentenced Thursday. Surveillance video captured the Indiana man wearing a military-style vest as he walked through the Capitol, prosecutors said.

“As an Air Force veteran, Sanders was well aware of the great danger posed by the violent entry of rioters into the Capitol,” prosecutors wrote. “His repeated claims that he had done nothing wrong are not credible – his track record shows he knew better.”

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