WASHINGTON — Anna Morgan-Lloyd, a 49-year-old Indiana woman charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection who described it as the “best day ever” on Facebook, was sentenced on Wednesday to probation and no jail time after pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor.
In announcing the sentence, US District Judge Royce Lamberth said Morgan-Lloyd had made it an "easy case" by cutting a deal early with prosecutors and accepting responsibility but acknowledged that some members of the public upset by the events of Jan. 6 might not agree with him "giving you the break that I’m going to give you." He warned that other defendants charged with participating in the insurrection should not take away "that probation is the automatic outcome here."
Lamberth also had harsh words for Republican lawmakers who have tried to downplay the seriousness of the attack on the Capitol, which the judge described as a "disgrace to our country."
"I’m especially troubled by the accounts of some members of Congress that Jan. 6 was just a day of tourists walking through the Capitol. I don’t know what planet they were on, but there are millions of people in this country that saw what happened," the judge said.
Morgan-Lloyd is the first person to face sentencing in the Capitol riot cases, setting an important benchmark for the 200-plus other people charged to date with only misdemeanor counts for their role in the insurrection. The rest of the nearly 500 defendants arrested so far are facing at least one felony, which bumps up the amount of time behind bars they could face, although early plea deals in those cases suggest sentences far below the maximums are on the table, at least for people who cut a deal with prosecutors.
Morgan-Lloyd had been charged with four misdemeanors for illegally entering the Capitol; she cut a deal and pleaded guilty to one of those counts, for “parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.” The charge carried a maximum sentence of six months in jail. As part of the plea deal, she agreed to pay $500 in restitution toward the nearly $1.5 million in damage the government has said rioters caused; defendants who plead guilty to felony charges have agreed to pay $2,000.
Morgan-Lloyd's attorney and the prosecutor had asked the judge to also sentence her to 40 hours of community service, but the judge tripled that, ordering 120 hours of service instead.
"You’ve led a very good life ... and I know I will never see you again," Lamberth said, speaking into a laptop positioned in front of him in the courtroom to Morgan-Lloyd, who appeared for the hearing remotely by video.
"Never," Morgan-Lloyd said, smiling and shaking her head.
Morgan-Lloyd cried during the hearing as she addressed the judge and said she wouldn't have gone to the Capitol if she'd known what would happen. Her lawyer H. Heather Shaner had described her to the judge as "among the least culpable of the individuals who went from listening to the ex-president’s speech to walking down to the Capitol" at his direction.
"I would just like to apologize to the court, the American people, my family," Morgan-Lloyd said. "I went there to support and show support for President Trump, and I’m ashamed that it became a savage display of violence that day."
The vast majority of federal criminal cases end with a guilty plea. Signing a deal with prosecutors brings down the amount of time behind bars defendants generally are likely to face, especially if they have a minimal or nonexistent criminal history.
Shaner filed a brief last week arguing for no jail time for her client. Shaner wrote that although Morgan-Lloyd wasn’t accused of more serious crimes, “she acknowledges that her presence may have given comfort to those who committed acts of violence and acts of destruction.” Morgan-Lloyd had supported Trump but now “totally accepts” that Joe Biden is president, her lawyer wrote. Shaner also noted that she’d had “many political and ethical discussions” with Morgan-Lloyd and assigned her client to read books about racism, antisemitism, and the mistreatment of Native Americans.
Morgan-Lloyd submitted her own written statement to the court, saying she understood that she was “wrong for stepping even one foot into the building,” but was still “shocked” to be arrested and had tried to cooperate with the FBI.
“At first it didn’t dawn on me, but later I realized that if every person like me, who wasn’t violent, was removed from that crowd, the ones who were violent may have lost the nerve to do what they did. For that I am sorry and take responsibility. It was never my intent to help empower people to act violently,” Morgan-Lloyd wrote.
She also submitted reports on some of Shaner’s assignments. She wrote that she’d watched Schindler’s List — “It’s hard to believe there are people who say this never happened,” she wrote, noting her son-in-law is a Holocaust denier — and read Just Mercy, a memoir by the pioneering social justice lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson. After absorbing those and other books, she wrote, “I’ve learned that even though we live in a wonderful country things still need to improve. People of all colors should feel as safe as I do to walk down the street.”
As part of the plea deal, the US attorney’s office agreed that no jail time was appropriate in Morgan-Lloyd’s case. In a June 17 brief, they advocated for three years of probation, arguing that it would keep Morgan-Lloyd under government supervision for a longer period of time than if she were sentenced to the maximum of six months in jail followed by one year of supervised release. They laid out seven criteria for evaluating Morgan-Lloyd’s role on Jan. 6, illustrating how they’d analyze other plea deal cases going forward in deciding how much or how little jail time to recommend.
The government said that notwithstanding Morgan-Lloyd’s “ill-considered and misguided commentary” on Facebook, there was no evidence that she had planned in advance to descend on the Capitol that day or participated in violence or property destruction. She spent only about 10 minutes in one hallway, the prosecutor noted, as compared to other people who spent more time going into offices, the rotunda, or the Senate and House chambers.
“The Defendant’s letter and early acceptance of responsibility indicate an important level of contrition for her actions on January 6th. Moreover, the Defendant’s seeming prior bravado, as set forth in her social media postings immediately after the breach of the Capitol, appears to have been tempered by a realization of the consequences of her actions,” Assistant US Attorney Joshua Rothstein wrote.
Rothstein largely read verbatim from last week's filing during his presentation to Lamberth on Wednesday, although he did note that the government hadn't been involved in Shaner's efforts to assign Morgan-Lloyd books and movies.
"We do not prosecute people based on their beliefs," Rothstein said. "We prosecute people for the criminal actions on Jan. 6."
Before announcing Morgan-Lloyd's sentence, Lamberth responded to the criticism that people charged with assaulting the Capitol were receiving more lenient treatment than people arrested last summer during demonstrations in cities across the country against police brutality and racism. Lamberth said many of those arrests were handled at the state level, and not in the federal courts, so it was difficult for him to take those into consideration when presiding over federal prosecutions. As for people arrested during violent protests outside a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, Lamberth cited statements from Attorney General Merrick Garland — who until recently worked in the same courthouse as Lamberth as a federal appeals judge — that he'd apply the law equally.
Morgan-Lloyd was charged in February along with another woman she was with on Jan. 6, Dona Bissey; Bissey’s case remains pending. Morgan-Lloyd came to the FBI’s attention a few weeks after the Capitol riots, when she went to a local sheriff’s office to get a gun permit, according to her charging papers. An employee recognized her from Facebook, where she’d posted about going to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and tagged Bissey; the sheriff’s office reviewed the publicly available posts and referred both women to the FBI.
“I’m here. Best day ever. We stormed the capital building me and Dona Bissey were in the first 50 people in,” she wrote in one message responding to another person’s post that had tagged her.
Other unidentified witnesses reported Morgan-Lloyd and Bissey’s involvement to the FBI. One witness said that Bissey had spoken in the past about her support for the QAnon mass delusion at the salon she owned and had posted on Facebook about going to the Capitol with Morgan-Lloyd.
“That was the most exciting day of my life,” Morgan-Lloyd wrote in one exchange quoted by the government in court filings.
“I’ll NEVER forget it!!” Bissey replied, followed by a series of American flag emojis.
“I’m so glad we were there. For the experience and memory but most of all we can spread the truth about what happened and open the eyes of some of our friends,” Morgan-Lloyd responded.