“It bothers me that she would try to associate herself with that type of violence… and then she goes on television on two occasions and is proud of what she did, and says she would do it again,” district Judge Reggie Walton said at a hearing for Capitol riot defendant Lori Vinson.
“I know that these types of comments have an impact,” Walton added. “As judges, we’re getting all kinds of threats and hostile phone calls when we have these (January 6) cases before us, because there are unfortunately other people out there who buy in on this proposition, even though there was no proof, that somehow the election was fraudulent.”
These comments came at a sentencing hearing for Vinson and her husband, Thomas Vinson. Walton gave them each five years of probation and a $5,000 fine — the maximum allowed, and the largest for a Capitol rioter so far. Prosecutors asked for a month in jail for Lori and house arrest for Thomas.
“I want the sentence to hurt,” Walton said. “I want people to understand that if you do something like this, it’s going to hurt. I know it’s a lot of money but hey, that’s the consequence that you suffer when you associate yourself with this type of behavior.”
The dozen or so federal judges handling the January 6 cases have taken different approaches towards the punishments given, with some favoring incarceration and others preferring fines. Prosecutors can only recommend a sentence — the final decision is up the judge.
Attorney General Merrick Garland faced tough questions from congressional Democrats at a Thursday hearing about why more rioters aren’t getting sent to jail. He was also critiqued by Republicans who believed the defendants are being treated too harshly.
‘Democracies die,” judge warns
The judge described the insurrection in dark terms and said his decision, and the large fine, were meant to deter people in the future from lying about elections and threatening democracy.
“It does threaten the future of our democracy,” Walton said. “Democracies die, and we’re seen it in the past, when the citizens rise up against their government and engage in the type of conduct that happened on January 6.”
He excoriated the defendants for buying into the lies that Trump and other top Republicans peddled about the 2020 election, and alluded to the fact that Trump is still pushing this false narrative. He is one of several judges — as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department — that have raised alarms about a continued threat from this rhetoric.
“Both of you were gullible enough” to believe the Big Lie, Walton said to the Vinsons at the hearing, “and you all bought in on it — hook, line and sinker.”
Asked by the judge how he got pulled into the Big Lie, Thomas Vinson said he watched hearings at state legislatures where Trump allies pushed their voter fraud claims. The main speakers at some of these hearings was Rudy Giuliani, who was Trump’s lawyer at the time.
“I didn’t know exactly what happened” in the election, “but it didn’t seem right,” Thomas Vinson said.
Defiance, then contrition
After the insurrection, Lori Vinson said in TV interviews that “I am not sorry,” “I would do it again tomorrow” and, “I have done nothing wrong.” She and her lawyer argued on Friday that she made these comments because she was incensed about getting fired from her job as a nurse, due to her presence at the Capitol, and that she wasn’t trying to whitewash January 6.
Speaking through tears, Lori Vinson asked Walton for a lenient sentence. She explained that she now has a new nursing job, has been a frontline worker treating patients with Covid-19, and currently takes care of mentally challenged people in her rural community.
Jail “will take me away from being able to help these people that I help daily,” she said.
The judge cited her role as a caretaker as one reason why he chose the route of a hefty fine instead of sending her to jail for 30 days, which the prosecutors requested.
Her husband — one of the several dozen veterans who were charged in the riot — did not make any defiant comments after the insurrection, and owned up to his actions on Friday.
“I signed up for the Air Force to take care of and defend this country,” Thomas Vinson said. “I took that oath to the Constitution and I know I broke that oath that day by entering that building and participating in the events of January 6. It’s blemish that’s going to be on myself, my family for the rest of my life, and the country, and into the history books.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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