One day after blasting the Department of Justice for charging Capitol rioters with "petty offenses," U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell handed down probation to a defendant for whom the feds recommended jail time.
Howell criticized the DOJ again Friday, but this time she said it was for unfairly singling out Leonard Gruppo, who she said was having his military record used against him. And she noted that he was cooperating with the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.
Gruppo, of Clovis, New Mexico, was sentenced by Howell Friday to two years of probation, 90 days of home detention and a $3,000 fine," reports the Courthouse News Service. Prosecutors had recommended 30 days in prison.
Chief U.S. Judge Beryl Howell sentenced Gruppo to two years of probation, 90 days of home detention and a $3,000 fine, noting he was in the Capitol for only about seven minutes, he didn't brag on social media afterward, he didn't join in on the chants, and he voluntarily turned himself into the FBI, the news service reported.
Howell even went so far as to praise Gruppo for his service.
"'I do think it is somewhat ironic that his military service is being used against him,' said Howell, who just described herself in a court hearing Thursday for a separate Capitol riot case as an "army brat," according to the news service report. "During Friday's hearing, Howell said she has tremendous respect for Howell's military service, which includes 28 years, four combat zones and a slew of awards."
Politico reported that Gruppo's attorney, Daniel Lindsey, argued to the judge that his client had cooperated with the Jan. 6 committee's investigation and was betrayed by Trump.
"He followed the recommendation of a president who is amoral and cannot tell the truth — a former president," Lindsey said.
Howell also credited Gruppo for cooperating with lawmakers, saying he demonstrated his remorse since Jan. 6, "particularly by talking to members of Congress on the select committee to help deter other people with the specialized training you [received] in the military, not to turn it against fellow Americans," Politico reported.
Gruppo was contrite in the courtroom. Here's how the news service reported it:
"'I am ashamed. I am sorry,' Gruppo said. 'I shouldn't have been there. It was a huge mistake. I let down so many people. Everybody. Capitol police. My congressional leaders. Presidents. Both presidents. Family. Friends. Employers.'"
"In a letter to Howell dated Oct. 19, Gruppo said that he was "misled" by former President Donald Trump, and immediately felt regret about joining the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
"Prosecutors, who recommended that Gruppo be sentenced to 30 days in prison, argued that Gruppo's military service works against him, something that federal prosecutors have repeatedly argued when it comes to military veterans involved in the riot — but Howell disagreed.
"I do think it is somewhat ironic that his military service is being used against him," said Howell, who just described herself in a court hearing Thursday for a separate Capitol riot case as an "army brat." During Friday's hearing, Howell said she has tremendous respect for Howell's military service, which includes 28 years, four combat zones and a slew of awards.
"It's beyond commendable, it's pretty heroic," Howell said. "It surprises me that the government is holding that service, which most Americans have enormous respect for, against him."
Here's a transcript from the sentencing hearing, as reported by the Inner City Press:
Judge Howell I listened to the Court's sentencing yesterday and I want to address it and explain why he are asking for 30 days in jail. Judge Howell: That's all I'm looking for, an explanation.
AUSA: Mr. Gruppo disobeyed law enforcement, three times. His prior military service militates for jail time. He swore an oath to defend the Constitution, but damaged our global reputation as a democracy. And, he destroyed evidence.
Judge Howell: I want to go into details why the Government has recommended incarceration for Mr. Gruppo. I appreciate how the Government is using his prior military service. Mr. Lindsay noted that his military service is being used against him.
Judge Howell: Gruppo served 28 years, four combat zones. But it's being held against him. I'm puzzled that's the government's second factor. It's not just that I grew up on military bases around the world. My father parachuted
AUSA: I do respect those who risked their lives. Judge Howell: It's pretty heroic. And, Mr. Gruppo was in the Capitol for 7 minutes, and didn't attack any police officer, and didn't engage in chanting or carry signs? AUSA: No signs. We don't have audio.
Judge Howell: He voluntarily turned himself in to the FBI.
Judge Howell: No inflammatory language on social media. AUSA: We were not able to identify any. Judge Howell: And he pled guilty. AUSA: Yes.
AUSA: He scaled the walls. It shows his intent, that he knew his conduct was wrong. He saw the police establishing a perimeter, but he still went into the Capitol. So we want jail time. I know your Honor expressed concern at some of our early probation-only cases. But those did not involve disobeying officers, and destroying evidence. We have extended 268 pleas. Only 5 included probation-only. It's the exception.
Gruppo's lawyer: He turned over his devices. We're well aware the Court is an expert in forensics. They can reconstruct everything by Snapchat, and they get that from California with a subpoena.
Gruppo's lawyer: Mr. Gruppo followed the recommendation of a former President would could not tell the truth. This was a riot.
Gruppo himself: I'm sorrowful. I shouldn't have been there. It was a huge mistake. I let down so many people because of this. Everybody.
Gruppo: I let down my employers. The Congressional delegation. The President. Both Presidents. I take full responsibility. Whatever you decide I accept without complaint.
Judge Howell: I'll begin with restitution. The plea agreement provides for $500.
Judge Howell: Mr. Gruppo, you did help facilitate the riot, just by being there. It looked like a zoo, densely packed. Former President Trump said, we going to march down. And you wanted to show your support. But he didn't march.
Judge Howell: The evidence as I see it points to a conclusion that this was a defendant that didn't deliberately support the violence that has stained our country. He's less troublesome than other riots.
Judge Howell: You served in four wars as a medical professional. Maybe the government wants to use you as an example, with the specialized training that you get. I get that. But for your defense memo calls this an insurrection, you recognize it was a mistake.
Judge Howell: You are cooperating with the Select Committee. Your better judgment seems to have returned to you. You turned in your devices & all relevant passwords. You're expressed, & I appreciate this, you've apologized to President Biden and then VP Pence etc.
Judge Howell: I do not see the need for specific deterrence. A sentence of probation with home detention is appropriate. So: Gruppo you are sentenced to 2 years of probation, $500 restitution and $3000 fine. Location monitoring for 90 days. Out for work, medical
Chief Judge Howell: So, 90 days home detention. I transfer jurisdiction to Dallas, Texas. Adjourned