By Jacqueline Thomson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A member of the far-right Oath Keepers was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison on Friday for her role in the deadly January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump who tried reverse his defeat in the presidential election.
Jessica Watkins was convicted in November by a federal jury in Washington of obstructing due process for her role in the Capitol storming, which saw rioters battle police, smash windows and send lawmakers running to save their life.
Watkins was also convicted of conspiracy and obstructing officers during the riots.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said on Friday it was “particularly difficult” to sentence Watkins after she testified at trial about the struggles she faced with her transgender identity and her cooperation with the law enforcement officials during their investigation into his conduct on January 17. 6.
But he said “doesn’t erase” what she did during the attack.
“Your role that day was more aggressive, more aggressive, more determined than maybe others,” Mehta said.
Kenneth Harrelson, another Oath Keeper convicted of obstructing official process, was also found guilty of conspiring to prevent members of Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory as well as tampering with documents and procedures. He will be sentenced later Friday.
Watkins and Harrelson were acquitted of seditious conspiracy charges.
Federal prosecutors had asked Mehta in Washington to sentence Watkins to 18 years in prison.
During tearful remarks in court, Watkins called on Mehta to deliver a just sentence.
“My actions and behavior on that fateful day were wrong and, as I now understand it, criminal,” she said.
Federal prosecutor Alexandra Hughes told Mehta on Friday that the actions of Watkins and other oath keepers that day “were not an aberration” and that a significant sentence should be imposed.
Watkins’ attorney has asked that she be sentenced to five years in prison.
Prosecutors are asking for a 15-year sentence for Harrelson. Harrelson and his attorneys have not suggested a sentence and he maintains his innocence.
Friday’s court proceedings come a day after Mehta sentenced Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes to 18 years in prison for crimes including seditious conspiracy or the use of force to try to overthrow the federal government . This is the harshest sentence ever imposed on those accused of the January 6 violence.
Members of the Oath Keepers, founded by Rhodes in 2009, include current and retired US military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders. They have appeared, often heavily armed, at protests and political events, including racial justice protests that followed the 2020 killing in Minneapolis of a black man named George Floyd by a white police officer.
Some of the oath keepers, including Watkins and Harrelson, burst into the Capitol wearing paramilitary gear. Others at a suburban hotel organized a “rapid reaction force”, prosecutors said, equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported to Washington.
Four other Oath Keepers members convicted of seditious conspiracy in a second trial are due to be sentenced next week.
(Reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen in Washington; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Mark Porter)