A married couple who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 and later downplayed the level of violence pleaded guilty on Tuesday in federal court, where a judge pledged to use the case to send a message that their behavior was “reprehensible.”
The plea hearing for the two Donald Trump supporters, Lori and Thomas Vinson of Kentucky, took place while the select committee hearing about the attack was underway in the House of Representatives.
The Vinsons, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of demonstrating in the Capitol. This has become the standard deal that the Justice Department has offered to nonviolent rioters.
The charge carries a potential maximum sentence of six months in jail, though they’ll likely get less than that, and could even receive probation and avoid incarceration. As part of the plea agreement, both agreed to pay $500 in restitution for damage done to the Capitol.
Judge Reggie Walton said he will weigh what sort of sentence will send a message to the public that this type of “reprehensible” behavior won’t be tolerated.
“It’s very troubling to me that a group of Americans will do what happened that day. It made us an embarrassment,” Walton said during the hearing. “I teach in various countries and I’m always touting the greatness of America. It’s going to be difficult for me to convince people in other parts of the world that we are that shining light upon a hill because of what happened that day.”
He continued, “it’s an embarrassment to me, it should be an embarrassment to every American.”
Both Lori and Thomas Vinson admitted to being inside the Capitol for 40 minutes. Thomas Vinson previously told investigators that they were part of a “peaceful bunch of people there to express their views to Congress,” according to court documents. Lori Vinson told investigators that they did not meet any resistance from law enforcement as they entered the Capitol, court documents show.
A few days after the riot, Lori Vinson struck a defiant tone in a local news interview, saying, “People have asked, ‘Are you sorry that you done that?’ Absolutely I am not; I am not sorry for that. I would do it again tomorrow.” She said she was fired from her job as a nurse after the riot.
Lori Vinson said at the hearing Tuesday that these incendiary comments were made “pertaining to my employment, not necessarily pertaining to my actions at the Capitol.”
The plea deal doesn’t include a recommended punishment. Walton can sentence them to up to six months in jail and give them a fine beyond the $500 that they already agreed to pay. A sentencing hearing is slated for October 22.
“You all maybe didn’t engage in any violence or destruction, but you were part of the mob mentality that caused this to occur,” Walton said, admonishing the Vinsons.
He said “some kind of punishment” was appropriate. “It may not be detention. Maybe it’s gonna be money or something that you all gotta pay. To rectify what you did.”
As the virtual court proceeding began, someone on the video call could be heard listening to the opening statements from police officers testifying at the House committee investigating the insurrection.
So far, 23 people have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Capitol riot. The Justice Department has charged 550 people in the attack, according to CNN’s latest tally.
This story has been updated with additional details.