Former Oath Keeper sentenced for role in Jan. 6 Capitol attack

Saturday, May 27, 2023 2:00AM
Former Oath Keeper sentenced for role in Jan. 6 Capitol attack
Jessica Watkins marches down the East front steps of the U.S. Capitol with the Oath Keepers militia group among supporters of President Donald Trump occupying the steps in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021.

A former leading member of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group was sentenced Friday to eight years and six months in prison for her role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Jessica Watkins led a small group into the Capitol building, but prosecutors said her actions enabled many more to ultimately disrupt the certification of Joe Biden's 2020 election victory.

Struggling to express her remorse through her tears, Watkins apologized before the court.

"My actions and behaviors on that fateful day were wrong and -- as I now understand -- criminal," she said.

Watkins' sentencing follows two lengthy prison terms handed down this week to Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and one of his chief lieutenants, Kelly Meggs. Rhodes on Thursday received the longest sentence of any Jan. 6 defendant to date at 18 years, while Meggs was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Last November, Watkins was found guilty of conspiring to obstruct the certification of the 2020 election and actual obstruction of that proceeding. Unlike Rhodes and Meggs, she was acquitted on the more serious charge of seditious conspiracy against the United States.

Once inside the Capitol, Watkins jammed herself in a hallway packed with rioters heading toward the Senate chamber.

Police officers were at the opposite end of the hallway, pressing back against the mob. Officer Christopher Owens tearfully spoke to the court this week about the physical and emotional trauma he and other officers experienced.

"She used her body in that hallway," federal prosecutor Alexandra Hughes told the court Friday. "She bears responsibility for the mental anguish and physical wounds of officers like Christopher Owens."

Watkins founded a separate militia group in Ohio before joining with the Oath Keepers. A veteran and former medic, Watkins said she left the military after experiencing harassment over her gender transition.

"Your story and what you have endured ... shows a great deal of courage, resilience, and you've overcome a lot," federal judge Amit Mehta said before handing down her sentence.

"But all that doesn't wipe out what happened that day," Mehta said. "It doesn't wipe out what you did that day."

Sentencing of the Oath Keepers who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 continued Friday with Kenneth Harrelson receiving a relatively light 4-year sentence.

Prosecutors requested 15-years after Harrelson was found guilty of obstructing the certification of the 2020 election as well as conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties, and tampering with documents or proceedings.

Harrelson was acquitted of the more serious seditious conspiracy charge.

Harrelson was near the military-style formation of Oath Keepers who pushed through the crowd and up the steps of the Capitol complex. Prosecutors argued he used his military training to help orchestrate the group.

However, Judge Amit Mehta found Harrelson did not "directly" threaten or physically assault officers on Jan. 6.

"How you got caught up with the Oath Keepers I don't know," Mehta said.

Mehta appeared persuaded by the remorse Harrelson expressed at sentencing. With his wife behind him in the courtroom, Harrelson struggled to compose himself, getting emotional and nearly breaking down before the judge.

He apologized repeatedly, first to officer Harry Dunn and then to his wife for his "foolish actions" that caused "immense pain."

"I would never attack a police officer under any circumstances," he said.

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