A Florida man who was charged with a felony after breaching the Senate chamber in the United States Capitol during a riot on Jan. 6 was sentenced Monday to eight months in jail.
Paul Allard Hodgkins, 38, was the first person charged with a felony to be sentenced.
During a court appearance, Hodgkins apologized to the court, saying he was ashamed of his actions and merely got caught up in the moment as a mob swarmed into the Capitol to protest the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
“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,” Hodgkins told the judge, The Associated Press reported. “This was a foolish decision on my part.”
Under an agreement with prosecutors, Hodgkins pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing an official proceeding, a felony that carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Prosecutors argued for an 18-month sentence, saying in one court filing that Hodgkins, “like each rioter, contributed to the collective threat to democracy” by forcing lawmakers to abort the certification of the newly elected president.
Said the AP:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Sedky said that, while Hodgkins didn’t engage in violence himself, he walked among many who did — in what she called “the ransacking of the People’s House.” And as he walked by smashed police barriers, he could see the smoke of tear gas and the chaos ahead of him.
“What does he do?” she asked the court. “He walks toward it. He doesn’t walk away.”
She added that Hodgkins was in the midst of a mob that forced lawmakers to seek shelter and some congressional staffers to hide in fear, locked in officers as hundreds swept through the building. Those in fear for their lives that day will, she said, “bear emotional scars for many years — if not forever.”
Hodgkins was not accused of assaulting officers or damaging property, and prosecutors said he took responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty to the obstruction charge. But prosecutors also said when he boarded a bus heading to Washington, D.C., he was carrying a rope, protective goggles and latex gloves in a backpack, which they said meant he was prepared for violence.
But his lawyer urged the judge to go easy on Hodgkins, saying his actions will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Hodgkins’ actions on Jan. 6 “is the story of a man who for just one hour on one day lost his bearings … who made a fateful decision to follow the crowd,” said lawyer Patrick N. Leduc, who added that is a law-abiding citizen who routinely volunteered at a food bank.