A federal judge sentenced a Capitol rioter to probation, not prison time, after she made an emotional apology to “the American people” for participating in “a savage display of violence”.
Anna Morgan-Lloyd, a 49-year-old Donald Trump supporter from Indiana, was the first person to be sentenced for participating in the 6 January attack. She will spend no time in prison after pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of “parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building”.
Judge Royce C Lamberth gave Morgan-Lloyd three years of probation, but warned that other defendants who had not been as cooperative or contrite as she had been should not expect the same punishment.
“I don’t want to create the impression that probation is the automatic outcome here, because it’s not going to be,” Lamberth said.
Morgan-Lloyd had initially boasted on Facebook about how she had “stormed the Capitol”, calling the event “the most exciting day of my life”. The Indiana grandmother and a friend had only spent a little over 10 minutes inside a Capitol hallway, prosecutors said, and had not been violent, destroyed government property, incited others to commit violence, or had any apparent connections with extremist groups. Prosecutors said Morgan-Lloyd spent approximately two days in jail after storming the Capitol, and said she had cooperated fully with law enforcement and later expressed regret for her actions.
With nearly 500 people already arrested and charged for their roles in the 6 January attack, the sentencing of Morgan-Lloyd, a woman with no known connections to extremist groups, is the first indication of what kinds of sentences federal judges may impose on the hundreds of people who invaded the Capitol during the official certification of Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.
While some members of extremist groups are facing more serious conspiracy charges for allegedly planning the violence at the Capitol in advance, and others are facing charges for assaulting law enforcement officers, many defendants, like Morgan-Lloyd, are facing only misdemeanor charges.
Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee who has served for 33 years, acknowledged that the sentence of probation would probably be controversial: “A sizable part of our public may not think that I’m enacting an appropriate sentence in this case today, in giving you the break that I’m going to give you,” he said to Morgan-Lloyd.
While Morgan-Lloyd faced a maximum potential sentence of six months in prison, the judge said he did not think it was appropriate for him to impose a harsher sentence than federal prosecutors had requested for her: three years of probation, $500 in restitution and 120 hours of community service – more than the 40 hours prosecutors had requested.
But the judge also made a point of criticizing “the accounts of some members of Congress that January 6 was just a day of tourists walking through the Capitol. I don’t know what planet they were on, but there were millions of people in this country that saw what happened.”
In a statement before her sentencing, Morgan-Lloyd issued a tearful apology to “the court, the American people, and my family”.
“I was there to show support for President Trump peacefully, and I’m ashamed that it became a savage display of violence that day, and I would have never been there if I had a clue it was going to turn out that way.
“I never wanted to be part of anything like that, and I just wanted to apologize.”
It was a marked shift in tone from her first reaction to the Capitol attack: “Best day ever. We stormed the capitol building,” Morgan-Lloyd wrote on Facebook on 6 January, prosecutors said. She added that she and her friend “were in the first 50 people in”, authorities said.
In a sentencing memo, federal prosecutors said Morgan-Lloyd and her friend Donna Sue Bissey did not appear to have planned their actions in advance or coordinated with any extremist groups.
In a letter to the court, prosecutors said, the 49-year-old took responsibility for her actions, and wrote, “At first it didn’t dawn on me, but later I realized that if every person like me, who wasn’t violent, was removed from that crowd, the ones who were violent may have lost the nerve to do what they did.”
“I think she’s learned a lot,” Morgan-Lloyd’s attorney, Heather Shaner, told the Guardian. “This has been a trauma for her, and she knows it was a trauma for the United States of America that people did what they did, and she would never do it again.”
Shaner said that her client was “from a very small town and has had very limited life exposure”, and that she believed that many of the people who participated in the Capitol riots were “were uninformed or misinformed”.
“She’s a very fine woman, and I hope she gets probation,” Shaner said.
The conditions of her probation should include barring her owning firearms, prosecutors requested.
Unlike most federal defendants, who typically remain in detention before trial, the vast majority of people charged in the Capitol riots have already been released, a Guardian analysis found. The stark contrast in pre-trial detention rates has prompted questions about whether the predominantly white Capitol defendants were getting different treatment from prosecutors and judges than most federal defendants, who are Black and Latino.