One of the first rioters on January 6, who broke the Capitol, gets 4 years in prison

A New Jersey man who was one of the first rioters to break into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, then testified under oath that he didn’t know Congress was meeting there, was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison prison.

Prosecutors had sought more than six years for Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, but a federal judge ruled that his actions did not obstruct “the course of justice,” even though they prevented Congress’ official hearings that day. A jury convicted him of that crime in May.

Also on Thursday, the only defendant on January 6 who testified about his conduct before the Parliament committee investigating the riot was given a two-year suspended sentence for disorderly conduct. Stephen Ayres, a 39-year-old carpenter in Ohio, said he thinks about Jan. 6 “every single day” and prays for the injured officers and anyone who lost a loved one.

Hale-Cusanelli, 32, worked as a security guard at Naval Weapons Station Earle and lived on base in Colts Neck, N.J. In addition to being a supporter of President Donald Trump, the man was a white supremacist who supported Nazi ideology and admired Adolf Hitler, even wearing a “Hitler mustache” at work, the government said in a lawsuit. But U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden ruled that Hale-Cusanelli’s racist preferences were too damaging to present to a jury, although he allowed the defendant’s comments that he wanted a civil war to come into evidence.

NJ man found guilty of felony obstruction of Congress in Jan. 6 riot

Surveillance video showed Hale-Cusanelli climbing through a window on Lower West Terrace at 14.13, moments after it was first smashed, wearing a gray suit and a red MAGA hat. Before entering, prosecutors said, he moved aside a bike rack barrier to allow crowds to get closer to the building, then urged the mob forward by waving his arms and yelling, “Go ahead! Move!”

Once inside, Hale-Cusanelli was part of a group that overwhelmed the US Capitol and DC police in the crypt. Photos and videos showed him then trying to pull a rioter away from a police officer who was about to arrest that person. Hale-Cusanelli claimed he did not know the officer was an officer and that he thought the ballot “would be in a building called ‘Congress.’ As silly as it sounds, I didn’t realize Congress was sitting in the Capitol building.”

On Thursday, McFadden called it “a dangerous lie,” and after the jury convicted Hale-Cusanelli in May, the judge suggested to prosecutors that he would consider a request for a longer sentence for “obstruction of justice.” And McFadden actually increased Hale-Cusanelli’s sentencing ranges for those sworn statements.

But prosecutors sought two even longer sentence enhancements for obstructing and interfering with the “administration of justice” at the Capitol. Defense attorney Nicholas D. Smith said that while Congress’s act of certifying the Electoral College vote could qualify as an “official proceeding,” and all but one D.C. federal judge has agreed, the certification did not qualify as due process. Prosecutors argued in their sentencing submissions that “”the administration of justice” is synonymous with “official procedure.””

McFadden agreed with the defense. He said the Electoral College count was “noticeably different” from congressional investigations and other justice-related actions. “I don’t think the administration of justice as it’s used in sentencing is a fair way to describe what’s happening here.”

He then reduced the sentencing range of 70 to 87 months to 21 to 27 months. The guidelines are indicative, but judges typically issue sentences within the range. The government had requested a sentence of 78 months for Hale-Cusanelli.

But McFadden then blasted Hale-Cusanelli for his racist, sexist and anti-Semitic remarks, some of which were caught on a recording made by his roommate when Hale-Cusanelli returned to New Jersey after the riot. The judge echoed a profane taunt Hale-Cusanelli yelled at a female Capitol police officer during the riot, criticizing his “decision to lie on the witness stand.”

“Neither the jury nor I believed your claim that you did not know that Congress lives in the Capitol building … you participated in a national embarrassment,” the judge said.

Although he had reduced the sentence to 21 to 27 months, McFadden sentenced Hale-Cusanelli to 48 months, followed by three years of supervised release.

The judge credited Hale-Cusanelli for showing remorse.

“My behavior that day was unacceptable and I dishonored my uniform and I dishonored the country,” Hale-Cusanelli said. He claimed he was “acting on the advice of lawyers” when he testified about his confusion about where Congress sits. “I challenged the law as it applied in my case.”

Elsewhere in the courthouse, Ayres told U.S. District Judge John D. Bates that he is embarrassed and troubled by the political rhetoric that once ensnared him. “I wish everybody in this country could stop and see where this is going,” he said in comments similar to those he made during a nationally televised House committee hearing on Jan. 6, where he said he hoped like-minded people would “take the blinders off.”

Prosecutors asked for a 60-day sentence, citing violent social media comments Ayres made before Jan. 6 and his “lukewarm” response on Capitol Hill when asked if he still believed the 2020 presidential election was stolen. But Bates said he believed Ayre’s remorse was “sincere” and put him to the test.

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