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Jan. 6 defendant Guy Reffitt faces sentencing. The DOJ wants him to get 15 years

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A judge has sentenced Guy Reffitt, the first person convicted after a trial stemming from the January 6 Capitol riot, to 7 1/4 years in prison. It is the longest sentence to date related to the Capitol insurrection.

NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson was in the courtroom and joins us now. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so can you just remind us real quick - what were the most important facts that emerged at Reffitt's trial earlier this year?

JOHNSON: OK. So unlike some of the other people at the Capitol that day, Guy Reffitt did not assault a police officer. He did not go inside the Capitol building, but he did bring a gun holstered on his hip. He waved other rioters up the steps of the building to overwhelm law enforcement there, and he basically confessed multiple times on video and on the phone and on Zoom. Once he returned home to Texas, he told other members of a militia group to delete their chat messages, and he threatened his kids not to turn him in. He told them, traitors get shot.

CHANG: Right, I remember that detail. Now, prosecutors wanted a longer sentence, right? What did the judge say about that?

JOHNSON: Prosecutors actually asked, for the first time in one of these January 6 cases, for what you call a terrorism enhancement - more punishment - because this was domestic terrorism. The judge, Dabney Friedrich, said this was a complicated case, but she rejected that request for an enhancement. She said that would have created a sentencing disparity with other people convicted of crimes related to January 6, and she didn't want to penalize Guy Reffitt for exercising his right to go to trial.

Still, the judge said, in some ways, Guy Reffitt was in a class of his own. He didn't just want to stop the electoral count. He wanted to overthrow the government and take legislators, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, out of the building by force. The judge said Reffitt's threats to his own kids were very disturbing, and she also wondered why Reffitt thus far had shown no remorse for his actions at the Capitol.

CHANG: Well, Reffitt did not testify at his trial - right? - but I understand that you heard from him today at the very last minute. What happened?

JOHNSON: Yeah. At the very last minute, after the judge remarked several times about his lack of remorse, Reffitt got up to the podium, said he was anxious and afraid his words would come out wrong. He said he was very sorry because of what happened to his family and that he had acted like an idiot - that January 6 was kind of a big blur. He said, I'll have nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with militias or anything like that moving forward. And he said he wrote letters calling himself a martyr to January 6 and a patriot just to help his family raise some money. The judge did give him some credit for this last-minute change of heart, but she said she'd throw the book at him if he violated the law again.

CHANG: Well, I know that Reffitt's family has been a major presence all through this courtroom drama. What did they have to say today?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Remember - his son, Jackson, turned his father in to the FBI and testified against him at the trial.

CHANG: Yeah.

JOHNSON: Jackson was not there today. He wrote a letter to the judge saying he hopes his father gets mental health treatment in prison. Reffitt's daughter, Peyton, did show up. She told the judge Reffitt is not a threat to the family but that he says a lot of things he doesn't mean. She said it wasn't her father's name on all the flags on January 6; it was President Trump's. In other words, Guy Reffitt was not the leader that day. And outside the courthouse, after the day was over, the defendant's wife, Nicole, echoed her support. Here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NICOLE REFFITT: We are patriots. Guy was a patriot that day. He will always be a patriot.

JOHNSON: Nicole Reffitt suggested her husband's apology inside the courtroom may have been half-hearted to get the judge to go light on him.

CHANG: All right. And real quick, Carrie - this is one of almost - what? - 900 prosecutions stemming from the Capitol riot. What's coming next?

JOHNSON: Yeah, Reffitt's lawyer says they're going to appeal. Other defendants are scheduled for trial, including much bigger cases against the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys of seditious conspiracy allegations.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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