A Florida crane operator who walked onto the Senate floor during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has been sentenced to eight months in federal prison and two years of supervised release.
Paul Hodgkins' sentencing is the first in a felony case stemming from the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters. It is viewed as a potential bellwether for how other Capitol defendants charged with similar offenses are likely to be treated.
Hodgkins pleaded guilty last month to a single count of obstructing an official proceeding. On Jan. 6, he marched from then-President Donald Trump's rally near the White House to the Capitol, where he walked inside and onto the floor of the Senate while carrying a red "Trump 2020" flag.
In court Monday, Hodgkins, dressed in a dark suit with his hair pulled back in a pony tail, said he was "truly remorseful and regretful" for his actions on Jan. 6.
"I say this not because I face consequence, but because of the damage that day's incident caused, the way this country that I love has been hurt," he told U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss.
Hodgkins said he traveled to Washington, D.C., from Florida to support Trump, and he had no idea the crowd would later storm the Capitol. He said he got caught up in the passion of the day and entered the Capitol and walked onto the Senate floor.
"This was a foolish decision on my part that I take full responsibility for," Hodgkins said. "I do not nor will not make any excuse."
In Hodgkins' case, the sentencing guidelines range was calculated at 15 to 21 months. Hodgkins' attorney, Patrick Leduc, asked the court for no prison time. The Justice Department, in contrast, recommended 18 months, in part to send a strong deterrent signal to anyone pondering a future assault on the country's democratic institutions.
The judge explained in court how he decided on a sentence in between those recommendations.
"It's essential to send a message that this type of conduct is utterly unacceptable and that grave damage was done to our country that day," Moss said. "But at the same time, I do not believe that Mr. Hodgkins, other than having made some very bad decisions that day ... that he is a threat."
Moss noted that Hodgkins did not previously have a criminal record. He did not engage in violence on Jan. 6 or destroy property, and he was in the Capitol for less than 30 minutes. But his presence at the Capitol, Moss made clear, did contribute to the mob's ability to achieve its goal of disrupting the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
"Although Mr. Hodgkins was only one member of a larger mob, he actively and intentionally participated in an event that threatened not only the security of the Capitol but democracy itself," Moss said.
"Because of the actions of Mr. Hodgkins and others that day, members of U.S. Congress were forced to flee their respective chambers," he added. "I think it's worth pausing for a moment to think about that — that is an extraordinary event under any circumstances that the members of the United States Congress are forced to flee the building fearing for their physical safety."
The judge said the damage the rioters caused "will persist in this country for several decades." He said it will make it harder for the government to promote democracy abroad and harder to convince young Americans that democracy stands as the foundation of this nation.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Now to a milestone in the investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Today in federal court, in Washington, D.C., a Florida man who entered the floor of the Senate during the January 6 riot was sentenced to eight months in prison. He becomes the first defendant to be sentenced for a felony plea in the investigation. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas was at the courthouse.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: So I know most of the court hearings here in Washington for defendants in the Capitol riot have been done virtually. This one was in person. Paint us a picture of what it was like today in court.
LUCAS: Well, there was a small bank of TV cameras outside the entrance to the courthouse, but otherwise it was pretty quiet. People are still wearing masks in court here in D.C., and social distancing still very much applies. They've even set up glass partitions in the courtroom to separate people because of COVID. And as you said, almost all of these Capitol riot hearings have been done virtually. But Paul Hodgkins, the defendant in this case, was in court today for his sentencing. He was dressed in a dark suit with a striped tie, and he had his long hair pulled back into a ponytail.
KELLY: And what else do we know about Paul Hodgkins?
LUCAS: He's a crane operator from Florida. He took a bus from Tampa to Washington for January 6 to show his support for Donald Trump. On that day, he walked from the rally near the White House to the Capitol. He entered the building after the doors had already been bashed in by others. And he ultimately made his way through the halls of the Capitol and onto the floor of the Senate, carrying a big red Trump 2020 flag with him.
He was among the first of the January 6 defendants to plead guilty. In his case, he pleaded guilty to one felony count of obstructing an official proceeding. He was not accused of violence or destroying property. He did speak in court today. He said he was truly remorseful and regretful for what he did on January 6. He said, quote, "I say this not because I face consequence, but because of the damage that day's incident caused, the way this country that I love has been hurt. He said it was a, quote, "foolish decision" and that he takes full responsibility for it.
KELLY: Interesting. All right, so to his sentence, eight months in prison, what did the judge say about how he came to that conclusion?
LUCAS: Well, the judge in this case, Randolph Moss, said he had a lot to consider. This is, as you noted, the first felony case to go to sentencing from the Capitol riot. And there isn't really anything similar in American history before this to look back to as a precedent. Judge Moss said what happened on January 6 was horrific, and it did profound damage to the country's democracy. And he said it is essential to send a message that the rioters' actions are unacceptable.
But at the same time, he's sentencing only Paul Hodgkins for his actions. And Moss said he thinks Hodgkins made some very bad decisions on January 6, but he doesn't think that Hodgkins poses a threat in the future. He noted that Hodgkins did not previously have a criminal record. He didn't act violently on January 6. He didn't destroy property. And so the judge came down on eight months in prison and two years of supervised release, which the judge said he thought was a fair sentence.
KELLY: Is this sentence a likely blueprint for other defendants for January 6 charges?
LUCAS: Well, from talking to defense attorneys, the sense is that this is laying the foundations. We've already seen one defendant sentenced for a misdemeanor plea from January 6. She received three years of probation. Now we have Hodgkins getting eight months for a non-violent felony. The Justice Department, with Hodgkins, had asked for 18 months. We have yet to see, though, sentencing for a Capitol defendant charged with violence or conspiracy. And those people may very well face much longer sentences.
KELLY: Thank you, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you.
KELLY: NPR's Ryan Lucas.
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