A crane operator from Florida who breached the United States Senate chamber carrying a Trump campaign flag was sentenced Monday to eight months behind bars, the first punishment handed down for a felony charge in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and one that could help determine the severity of other sentences in hundreds of pending cases.
In pronouncing the sentence on Paul Allard Hodgkins, U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss said Mr. Hodgkins had played a role, if not as significant as others, in one of the worst episodes in American history. Thousands of rioters loyal to then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol and disrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s election win, in a stunning display of public violence.
“That was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a protest,” Mr. Moss said. “It was … an assault on democracy.” He added: “It left a stain that will remain on us … on the country for years to come.”
Mr. Moss acknowledged Mr. Hodgkins’ sentence could set a benchmark for future cases. Deciding an appropriate punishment for Mr. Hodgkins, he said, was more challenging because the case is unique and the court couldn’t look to previous sentencings as a guide.
Mr. Hodgkins was disappointed a prison term was imposed, his lawyer, Patrick Leduc, said in a phone interview after Monday’s hearing. He said Mr. Hodgkins was heading back to his hometown of Tampa to organize his affairs – which will include speaking to his employer about whether imprisonment will cost him his job – before reporting to prison in several months.
“He’s hurt. He’s sad,” Mr. Leduc said. “Life is coming at him at 100 mph.”
More than 500 people have been charged so far for their participation in the attack, and many like Mr. Hodgkins were accused of serious crimes but were not indicted, as some others were, for roles in larger conspiracies. They will have to decide whether to plead guilty or go to trial.
Mr. Moss interrupted Mr. Leduc, Mr. Hodgkins’ attorney, to ask if granting the defense request to spare Mr. Hodgkins from prison could encourage others disgruntled by the results of a future election to besiege the Capitol.
“If we allow people to storm the United States Capitol, what are we doing to preserve our democracy?” Mr. Moss asked.
But the judge said Mr. Hodgkins deserved a lesser sentence than the 18 months prosecutors had requested, in part because he didn’t assault anyone, didn’t damage government property, and wasn’t among the lead attackers.
Mr. Hodgkins apologized to the court and said he felt ashamed. Speaking calmly from a prepared text, he described being caught up in the euphoria as he walked down Washington’s most famous avenue, then followed a crowd of hundreds into the Capitol.
“If I had any idea that the protest … would escalate [the way] it did … I would never have ventured farther than the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue,” he told the judge. He added, “This was a foolish decision on my part.”
He pleaded guilty last month to obstructing an official proceeding by participating in an attack that forced lawmakers to run and hide in fear. Five people died, including a police officer and rioter shot by police. Two other police officers who faced Jan. 6 rioters died by suicide days later.
In requesting an 18-month prison sentence during the hearing in Washington, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Sedky liken