As hundreds of his fellow MAGA rioters stormed all corners of the Capitol on Jan. 6, Paul Hodgkins headed straight for the Senate chamber.
After walking among the desks once inhabited by lawmakers certifying the presidential election—before being forced into hiding—the 38-year-old Florida man took off his protective eye goggles and snapped a selfie before joining his fellow insurrectionists.
That photograph led to Hodgkins’ February arrest after an acquaintance tipped off the FBI—and his eventual decision to strike a plea deal with prosecutors. Now, his defense lawyers are arguing their “kind” client does not deserve prison time for his one felony count.
And in an unreal turn of events, his attorneys are arguing that a lenient sentence on July 19 for the Tampa resident would actually “heal” the nation.
“This case is the story of a man who represents all that we would want in our fellow Americans,” defense attorney Patrick Leduc argued in a sentencing memo to Judge Randolph D. Moss. “It is the story of [a] man who for just one hour on one day, lost his bearings and his way.”
“A sentence that provides Paul Hodgkins ‘charity’ would go a very long way toward healing a nation in dire need of seeing what undeserved ‘grace’ looks like,” Leduc added.
The claim is among a series of head-scratching arguments made in the 32-page sentencing memo, including the declaration that “Hodgkins should not be cancelled.”
Hodgkins’ sentencing would be just the second instance of an insurrectionist being punished for the incursion—among roughly 500 who have been charged in connection with Jan. 6. Last month, Anna Morgan-Lloyd was sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty to one misdemeanor count for storming the Capitol with a friend; she referred to the riot as the “best day ever” on social media.
Morgan-Lloyd’s light sentence opened the door to the possibility that similarly accused insurrectionists who strike up a deal with prosecutors may not see jail time—which Hodgkins’ legal team seized upon.
“How this Court deals with Paul Hodgkins can stands as a symbol of what we are and, in the event, ‘charity’ is given, what President Lincoln hoped we would always be: A nation that forgives, gives undeserved grace, and restoration that promotes healing,” Leduc said.
Federal guidelines for the one count of obstructing an official proceeding state Hodgkins could face a sentence of up to 21 months in prison and a fine of $250,000. However, as part of his plea agreement, Hodgkins has already agreed to pay $2,000 in restitution and cooperate with federal prosecutors in their ongoing investigation into the riot.
“This is an absolutely terrible argument.”
— Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahman
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahman believes that arguments laid out by Hodgkins’ legal team “defy all logic.”
“This is an absolutely terrible argument,” Rahman told The Daily Beast on Friday. “To raise an argument like this is not only legally frivolous might piss off a federal judge.”
He added that judges are taught to base each sentencing solely on the “facts and circumstances of the case” and not about the “emotional factors or large implications of what their decision might mean.” “These lawyers know that, so asking a judge to try to heal America with sentencing goes against everything a judge is supposed to do,” he said.
Prosecutors state Hodgkins—sporting a Trump flag, “Trump 2020” shirt, and a backpack with goggles and latex gloves—entered the Capitol around 2:50 p.m. alongside a slew of other rioters. Some 10 minutes later, he entered the Senate chamber and eventually snapped a “selfie-style” photograph with his cell phone.
He then “walked down to the Senate well, where he stood adjacent to an elevated desk and platform,” prosecutors state in a criminal complaint. “A few feet away, several other individuals were shouting, praying, and commanding the attention of others in the Senate chamber.”
Hodgkins walked over to join the group, which included self-described “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley, before raising “his flag in salute.” He was arrested about a month later.
Since his arrest, his legal team contends in the sentencing memo, Hodgkins has been subjected to the “scarlet letter that many of his fellow citizens will compel him to wear” even though they claim he is only guilty of a misguided mistake that wasn’t violent or premeditated. Despite the public backlash, Leduc wrote, his client has continued to work 40 hours a week at MiTek Industries in Tampa, Florida, and perform hours of unpaid community service.
Leduc also noted that even though Hodgkins does not have a criminal history and showed “courage and strength of character” to plead guilty, he has been subjected to the societal “pull between grace and vengeance”—referencing Confederate soldiers after the Civil war.
“This Court stands in the shadows of Lincoln and Grant. The rebellion of the south did not deserve the ‘grace’ that Lincoln and Grant would provide. But the malice and humiliation that many might have sought would not heal the nation as both Lincoln and Grant fully understood,” the memo states.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Leduc said Hodgkins’ sentencing is about “how all of ‘us’ are going to start treating each other” after the insurrection.
“We have become a nation seeking to cancel each other out. We are all standing their [sic] with stones, ready to throw them, ignoring…our own hypocrisy,” the defense lawyer said, adding that “our nation is so busy trying to re-write history….maybe my sentencing memo will serve as a reminder of who we should all strive to be. With malice toward none, and Charity for all.”