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A Proud Boy pleaded for leniency from a judge, then yelled 'Trump won' on his way out

Rioters, including Dominic Pezzola, center with police shield, are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
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AP
Rioters, including Dominic Pezzola, center with police shield, are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

Updated September 1, 2023 at 4:58 PM ET

A self-described "sergeant of arms" for the Proud Boys and a member of the far-right extremist group were sentenced to a combined 28 years in federal prison for their roles in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in 2021.

Ethan Nordean, a leader of the Seattle chapter of the Proud Boys, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and three years of supervised release. Prosecutors on Friday called him the "undisputed leader on the ground" during the Jan. 6 attack.

Dominic Pezzola, a member of the Proud Boys that became one of the more recognizable faces of the riot at the Capitol, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and three years supervised release.

In his address to Pezzola, 45, and Nordean, 32, Judge Timothy Kelly called the events of Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol "a national disgrace."

Yet, his sentencing decision Friday is half of what prosecutors sought for Pezzola and nine years less for Nordean. The punishment reflects the seriousness of what he was convicted of, Kelly said.

Nordean coordinated members' storming of the Capitol all with the aim of interrupting the Electoral College certification of President Biden's victory, prosecutors said. They also said that in weeks leading up to Jan. 6, Nordean used social media to add new members to the Proud Boys, raised money and collected military-style equipment.

Kelly said his sentence reflects Pezzola's lesser role in comparison to his co-defendants and his conduct that day and that his actions that day "warrant significant deterrence."

In his plea for leniency to the court, Pezzola said he had given up politics, yet as he was being escorted out of the courtroom he shouted, "Trump won!" repeating the baseless claim of election fraud that led rioters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Pezzola became known for taking a shield from a police officer during the riots and using it to bash in a Capitol window, allowing other members of the mob to rush into the building.

He was convicted of assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers and robbery involving government property. Unlike his co-defendants in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy case, Pezzola was acquitted of that charge.

Though its far less than what prosecutors were looking for, the two penalties doled out Friday are in line with that of their co-defendants, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl who heard their punishment Thursday. Biggs received 17 years and Rehl, 15 years — roughly half of what prosecutors had sought for the two.

Nordean's penalty matches that of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes in his separate seditious conspiracy conviction for his actions during Jan. 6.

Pezzola and Nordean's family speak on his behalf

Proud Boy member Ethan Nordean walks toward the U.S. Capitol in Washington, in support of President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021.
Carolyn Kaster / AP
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AP
Proud Boy member Ethan Nordean walks toward the U.S. Capitol in Washington, in support of President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021.

Nordean's sister and wife spoke on his behalf arguing mercy for a good person, they said. When it was his turn to address the court, Nordean expressed regret for those who were injured and killed during and after Jan. 6.

"No rally should hold value over anyone's life," Nordean said in court.

Nordean, from Auburn, Wa., admitted to being a leader of the Proud Boys on that day, but said, "I came to keep people safe." However, he noted, he had several opportunties to deescalate the situation.

"I chose to do nothing," he said.

In his plea to Judge Kelly and before his outburst, Pezzola, of Rochester, N.Y., was far more emotional. He said he stood before the court "a changed man."

He cried as he addressed his two daughters and his wife. He expressed deep regret for leaving his wife to care for their family and for missing major events in his daughters' lives.

To Judge Kelly he said: "I stand before you with a heart full of regret."

He said, regarding his actions on Jan. 6, "This was the worst, most regrettable decision of my life. I fully realize the gravity of my actions."

Pezzola's wife, Lisa Magee, his daughter and mother also addressed the court to beg for mercy. Pezzola wiped his eyes as he listened to them describe how his involvement in Jan. 6 and his subsequent imprisonment negatively impacted their family.

Magee said her two daughters have become victims of harassment and bullying. She also said she can't find employment because of her connection to Pezzola.

"I truly believe if he could change the course of that day, he would," Magee said.

A government official carries a police shield used as evidence against Dominic Pezzola from federal court in Washington, Thursday, May 4, 2023.
Jose Luis Magana / AP
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AP
A government official carries a police shield used as evidence against Dominic Pezzola from federal court in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2023.

The last of the Proud Boys await sentencing

Kelly had previously said that he weighed the sentences of other Jan. 6 defendants and was working to avoid large sentencing disparities. This is part of why he gave sentences far below guidelines and the government's recommendations.

But one of Pezzola's defense attorneys, Roger Roots, filed a late sentencing memoranda for his client the morning of the hearing. In the filing, Roots warned against "a growing danger in Federal Courts of severe sentencing disparities" between Jan. 6 rioters and "left wing rioters."

Kelly said sentencing is a "serious and solemn thing," that the tardy filing was "inappropriate" given its lateness and struck it from the record.

The sentencing hearings for Tarrio and Nordean, originally scheduled for Wednesday, were delayed after Kelly fell ill.

Tarrio's hearing will commence on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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