WASHINGTON - A former member of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group who smashed a window at the U.S. Capitol in the building’s first breach of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot was sentenced on Friday to 10 years in prison — and then defiantly declared as he walked out of the courtroom, "Trump won!"
The sentence for Dominic Pezzola, among the longest for Jan. 6 offenses, is the latest handed down after leaders of the group were convicted of spearheading an attack aimed at preventing the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 presidential election. The highest profile defendant in the monthslong trial, former top Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.
Pezzola, 46, took a police officer’s riot shield and used it to smash the window, allowing rioters to make the first breach into the Capitol, and he later filmed a "celebratory video" with a cigar inside the building, prosecutors said. He was a recent Proud Boys recruit, however, and a jury acquitted him of the most high-profile charge, seditious conspiracy, a rarely brought Civil War-era offense. He was convicted of other serious charges, and prosecutors had asked for 20 years in prison.
"He was an enthusiastic foot soldier," prosecutor Erik Kenerson said.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly noted that Pezzola, of Rochester, New York, was a newcomer to the group who didn’t write the kind of increasingly violent online messages that his co-defendants did leading up to the Jan. 6 attack. Still, he was in some ways a "tip of the spear" in allowing rioters to get into the Capitol, said the judge, who decided to apply a terrorism enhancement to the sentence.
"The reality is you smashed that window in and let people begin to stream into the Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers," the judge told Pezzola. "It’s not something that I ever dreamed I would have seen in our country."
Defense attorneys had asked for five years for Pezzola, saying that he got "caught up in the craziness" that day.
Pezzola testified at trial that he originally grabbed the officer’s shield to protect himself from police riot control measures, and his lawyers argued that he broke only one pane of glass and that it was other rioters who smashed out the rest of the window.
He told the judge that he wished he’d never crossed into a restricted area on Jan. 6, and he apologized to the officer whose shield he took. "There is no place in my future for groups or politics whatsoever," he said.
But later, as he left the courtroom, he raised a fist and said, "Trump won!"
Another Proud Boy, former chapter president Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, is also set to be sentenced Friday. Prosecutor are asking the judge to sentence him to 27 years.
Two of their co-defendants were sentenced Thursday to a couple of the longest prison terms handed down yet in the Jan. 6 attack. Joseph Biggs, an organizer from Ormond Beach, Florida, got 17 years, and Zachary Rehl, a leader of the Philadelphia chapter, got 15 years.
The Proud Boys’ trial laid bare far-right extremists’ embrace of lies by Trump, a Republican, that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
More than 1,100 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Over 600 of them have been convicted and sentenced.
The longest Jan. 6-related prison sentence so far is 18 years for Stewart Rhodes, founder of another far-right extremist group, the Oath Keepers. Six members of that anti-government group also were convicted of seditious conspiracy after a separate trial last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.