CHICAGO - A Florida man who breached the U.S. Senate chamber carrying a Trump campaign flag was sentenced Monday to eight months behind bars, the first resolution for a felony case in the Capitol insurrection.
Paul Allard Hodgkins apologized and said he was ashamed of his actions on Jan 6. 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," Hodgkins told the judge. He added: "This was a foolish decision on my part."
Prosecutors had asked for Hodgkins to serve 18 months behind bars, saying in a recent filing that he, "like each rioter, contributed to the collective threat to democracy" by forcing lawmakers to temporarily abandon their certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory over President Donald Trump and to scramble for shelter from incoming mobs.
In pronouncing the sentence, Judge Randolph Moss said that Hodgkins had played a role, if not as significant as others, in one of the worst episodes in American history. Still he chose to give Hodgkins a year less in prison.
"That was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a protest," 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."
The sentencing could set the bar for punishments of hundreds of other defendants as they decide whether to accept plea deals or go to trial. Hodgkins and others are accused of serious crimes but were not indicted, as some others were, for roles in larger conspiracies.
Under an agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty last month to one count of obstructing an official proceeding, which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop lesser charges, including entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct.
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 never accused of assaulting anyone or damaging property. And prosecutors said he deserves some leniency for taking responsibility almost immediately and pleading guilty to the obstruction charge.
But they also noted how he boarded a bus in his hometown of Tampa bound for a Jan. 6 Trump rally carrying rope, protective goggles and latex gloves in a backpack — saying that demonstrated he came to Washington prepared for violence.
Video footage shows Hodgkins wearing a Trump 2020 T-shirt, the flag flung over his shoulder and eye goggles around his neck, inside the Senate. He took a selfie with a self-described shaman in a horned helmet and other rioters on the dais behind him.
His lawyer pleaded with the judge to spare his 38-year-old client time in prison, saying the shame that will attach to Hodgkins for the rest of his life should be factored in as punishment.
The lawyer argued in court papers that Hodgkins' actions weren’t markedly different from those of Anna Morgan Lloyd — other than Hodgkins stepping onto the Senate floor. Morgan Lloyd was the first of roughly 500 arrested to be sentenced. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and last month was sentenced to three years of probation.
Hodgkins' lawyer, Patrick N. Leduc, described his client as an otherwise law-abiding American who, despite living in a poorer part of Tampa, regularly volunteered at a food bank. He noted that Hodgkins is an Eagle Scout.
His 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," the attorney said.
Tarm reported from Chicago. Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm.