A federal judge sentenced two Oath Keeper defendants Thursday for their roles in disrupting the certification of the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021.
Edward Vallejo was sentenced to three years in prison while Roberto Minuta received a term of four years and six months. Both sentences were a significant departure from the 17 years the government requested for each defendant after the two were convicted earlier this year of sedition and conspiracy to derail Joe Biden's election victory.
Prosecutors argued Minuta was a key leader of the "second wave" of Oath Keepers who stormed the Capitol. He was joined by Joshua James, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy last year.
As part of his guilty plea, James admitted he and fellow members brought weapons, including a rifle, shotgun, semi-automatic handgun and ammunition to the greater Washington, D.C., area. James acknowledged he breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, intending to stop the electoral college certification, with Minuta by his side.
At his sentencing, Minuta flatly denied any knowledge of plans between Oath Keepers, including the stockpile some had amassed at a Virginia hotel.
"I did not know about any guns in Virginia whatsoever," Minuta said.
Minuta continued to insist he went into the Capitol to help police officers in distress. He apologized to the judge for entering the building.
"I shouldn't have and I'm sorry that I did," he said. "I was presented with an opportunity to help police and I blew it."
"I did not want to advance into the building, and I left James in there as soon as I could get out," he added.
Judge Amit Mehta said he found no evidence that Minuta entered the building to help police.
"You and I will have to agree to disagree about that," Mehta said.
Mehta also found no evidence that Minuta himself brought a weapon into the district or served as a critical leader of the group. However, Mehta did apply a terrorism enhancement to the sentence that was ultimately handed down.
Vallejo himself wasn't accused of taking any violent actions on Jan. 6, but prosecutors argued his position as a leader of the "quick reaction force" was even more serious. Oath Keepers amassed a cache of weapons at a Virginia hotel where Vallejo awaited orders from those in Washington, D.C., prosecutors alleged.
Defense attorney Matthew Peed argued that Vallejo was influenced by Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and then-President Donald Trump to think what he was doing was patriotic. As an example of his respect for the democratic process, Peed said Vallejo had been a major supporter of former Rep. Ron Paul, even attending a national political convention on his behalf.
"He just thought that something different (on Jan. 6) was happening because the President had told him," Peed said.
Vallejo was also sentenced to three years of supervised release following his prison term, including time on home confinement.
"He has had an impeccable pre-trial record," Mehta said, before allowing Vallejo to walk out of court and self-surrender.
Last week, Rhodes received the longest sentence of any Jan. 6 defendant to date at 18 years, a decision that was also handed down by Mehta.