Seven US Capitol riot defendants pleaded guilty on Friday to charges related to the January 6 insurrection, including one man who threatened to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
With this latest flurry of court activity, 10% of the more than 600 known federal defendants charged in connection with the deadly riot have pleaded guilty, according to CNN’s latest tally.
The most notable defendant to finalize a guilty plea was Cleveland Meredith Jr., who drove from Colorado to Washington, DC, with two guns and 2,500 rounds of ammunition. He missed former President Donald Trump’s speech at a rally on January 6, but texted a relative one day later that he was thinking about attending an event with Pelosi and “putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.”
He pleaded guilty to sending threatening communications and faces a maximum potential prison term of five years, though prosecutors told the judge they’d only seek as much as two years. Meredith has been in jail since his arrest in January and will get credit for time served when he is sentenced in December.
The pace of guilty pleas has picked up in recent weeks, as the Justice Department tries to resolve dozens of lower-level cases involving nonviolent riot defendants, including a married couple from Ohio.
Most of the 61 guilty pleas so far have been for low-level misdemeanors. But several people have pleaded guilty to felonies that could lead to years-long prison sentence, such as conspiring with extremist groups, assaulting police or obstructing congressional proceedings.
Past and future threats
At Meredith’s plea hearing, he told the judge that the vulgar and sexist messages he sent about shooting Pelosi were “political hyperbole,” before eventually admitting: “I sent the text.”
He planned to attend Trump’s January 6 rally, but because of car trouble, he arrived in DC after the insurrection. He acknowledged that he brought 2,500 rounds of ammunition, an assault rifle and another gun emblazoned with an American flag in his truck trailer. But as part of his plea agreement, he wasn’t required to plead guilty to the weapons charges that were initially filed.
During a separate plea hearing on Friday, a federal judge reminded another defendant that he is banned from returning to DC for a rally planned for September 18 in support of the January 6 rioters.
“You are not allowed to attend that demonstration, do you understand?” US District Judge Rudolph Contreras told defendant Felipe Marquez, who, like most of the Capitol riot defendants, was previously ordered to stay out of DC while his criminal case is moving through the court system.
Marquez pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, which is a misdemeanor. He could face up to one year in jail, though most nonviolent rioters have received lighter sentences.
Few expect the September 18 protest to be anywhere near the size of the massive pro-Trump rally on January 6 that preceded the insurrection, which attracted at least 25,000 people. But law enforcement officials are bracing for potential clashes and unrest, and the US Capitol Police asked its oversight board to approve plans to temporarily reinstall fencing around the complex.
A married couple from rural Ohio also pleaded guilty Friday to illegally protesting in the Capitol, a misdemeanor akin to trespassing that many of the nonviolent rioters pleaded guilty to already.
After the attack, Stephanie Miller and Brandon Miller falsely claimed on Facebook that the day “was peaceful” and that “the media” was distorting what happened, according to court filings.
Their plea hearing was nearly derailed when the couple balked at a few provisions in the deal their lawyers had negotiated with the Justice Department. Brandon Miller claimed he hadn’t been told that he would need to do an interview with investigators about the riot. And Stephanie Miller said she wasn’t aware that prosecutors could examine her phone and social media accounts.
After a brief discussion with their lawyers, the Millers both moved forward with their guilty pleas. US District Judge Tanya Chutkan accepted their pleas and scheduled sentencing for December 1.
They’re not the only Capitol rioters who raised last-minute objections at their plea hearings. CNN previously reported that several defendants continued to push self-serving narratives about police supposedly inviting them into the Capitol, even as they tried to plead guilty.
More guilty pleas are scheduled to occur in the coming weeks. Only six rioters have been sentenced so far, but more sentencing hearings are peppered throughout the rest of 2021.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified which state defendant Cleveland Meredith Jr. traveled from to Washington, DC. It was Colorado.