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Judge locks up ‘Three Percenter’ militia members in Jan. 6 obstruction case

Judge locks up ‘Three Percenter’ militia members in Jan. 6 obstruction case

WASHINGTON — Four California men who were associated with the “Three Percenter” militia group and convicted in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol attack were taken into custody Friday after a judge ordered them to serve sentences ranging from 21 to 33 months in federal prison, far below what the government had requested.

Erik Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio Martinez, Derek Kinnison and Ronald Mele were all found guilty of felony obstruction of an official proceeding and other charges after a trial last year. One of their co-defendants, former California police chief Alan Hostetter, was sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison in December. The trials featured testimony from co-defendant Russell Taylor, who pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal with the government.

The felony charge they were convicted of — obstruction of an official proceeding — is currently before the Supreme Court, where some of the justices seemed skeptical of the way the government had used the charge. A decision in that case is expected in the coming months. If the Supreme Court guts the charge, two of the defendants could end up only serving 12 months in prison on their misdemeanor convictions.

The men communicated over a “The California Patriots — DC Brigade” Telegram chat and brought weapons on their trip to Washington to participate in Jan. 6, according to evidence shown at trial. They kept a shotgun in their car, and Kinnison and Mele claimed they stored five handguns in their hotel room “despite understanding that it was illegal,” the government said. “We’re packing light just a scatter gun and a pistol a piece,” Martinez joked, according to prosecutors.

Mele took photographs of the handguns, holsters, ammunition and magazines the group brought into their hotel room.U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Prosecutors had sought lengthy sentences for the foursome between 6.5 and eight years in federal prison, but Judge Royce Lamberth landed on much lower sentences within the guidelines range.

Warner received 27 months after telling Lamberth that he “got caught up” in the mob and was sorry for his conduct. “I shouldn’t have been there,” he said, apologizing to his family for putting them “through hell.”

Martinez received 21 months in prison after he said he was “very sorry” and apologized for his conduct, telling Lamberth that he would “never see me back here.”

Kinnison was sentenced to 33 months in prison. He spoke about his love of God, family and country and said he admired the “Judeo-Christian principles that the country was founded upon.” He said that he did repent for his sins and ask forgiveness for his sins and that he was praying for Lamberth and the prosecutors on the case.

Mele was also sentenced to 33 months. Prosecutors said he “awarded” his co-conspirators a “Capitol Action Badge” a few weeks after Jan. 6, which prosecutors described as a “crudely modified version of a real military reward.” He said Jan. 6 “gave this country a black eye” that was still tender. Mele said he had pulled himself away from politics and that the experience of going through trial and seeing videos of some of the horrific violence at the Capitol had “opened my eyes.” He said that he didn’t condone what happened, calling it “asinine.”

An image of the “Capitol Action Badge” Mele sent to his co-defendants.U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

The government had sought eight years in prison for all the defendants except for Martinez, who they said should serve six and a half years.

The stakes, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mariano argued, could not be much higher, and the defendants here were in a “rare class” of Jan. 6 defendants who “worked together and had a plan” and were convicted in a criminal conspiracy. They came to Washington with “everything a soldier going into battle needs,” he noted.

“We are 262 days away from Jan. 6, 2025,” Mariano said Friday, arguing that the sentence imposed “needs to consider January 6, 2025, 2029, 2033, and so on.”

More than 1,387 people have been charged in connection with the Capitol attack, with more than 984 defendants having been convicted. Of the more than 859 defendants who have been sentenced, more than 520 have been sentenced to periods of incarceration of a few days behind bars to 22 years in federal prison.

The overwhelming majority of Jan. 6 defendants in custody either admitted to their criminal conduct or were found guilty at trial; only about 15 defendants in pretrial custody.

CORRECTION (April 20, 2024, 4:01 p.m.) A previous version of this story misstated the number of men associated with the “Three Percenter” militia group who were taken into custody. It was four, not three.

Ryan J. Reilly

Ryan J. Reilly is a justice reporter for NBC News.

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