- October 15, 2021
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Dona Sue Bissey must serve 14 days in prison, while Eliel Rosa received one year of probation. Federal judges pointed to their behavior after the Capitol riot as a basis for these diverging punishments.
WASHINGTON (CN) — Marking the second time she has given a Capitol rioter a heftier sentence than the one sought by prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered an Indiana hairdresser to prison on Tuesday.
“There must be consequences,” Chutkan said at the hearing in Washington, also giving Dona Sue Bissey 60 hours of community service and the standard $500 fee that all Jan. 6 defendants must pay. “I think incarceration is necessary in order to deter future misconduct.”
Last week, Chutkan sentenced fellow Jan. 6 defendant Matthew Mazzocco to prison time, despite the government’s recommendation of home confinement.
Chutkan noted that she wants Bissey behind bars partially because the 53-year-old bragged about the riot on social media.
“It was a day I’ll remember forever. I’m proud that I was a part of it! No shame. BTW turn off the #FakeNews,” Bissey wrote on Facebook.
Bissey, a hair stylist who subscribes to QAnon conspiracy theories, walked around the Capitol building for 10 minutes with her friend Anna Morgan-Lloyd — a rioter who received three years of probation.
“The fact that she subscribes to bizarre conspiracy theories, that’s her right. That’s something she is allowed to do as an American,” Chutkan said. “It’s one thing to believe in conspiracy theories in your basement. It’s another thing to act on it.”
In a defense sentencing memorandum, Bissey’s attorney Cara Halverson said that Bissey’s hometown has shunned the woman in the wake of the riot — her business is losing clients, she has sunk into a state of depression, she is frequently harassed, and she has difficulty sleeping.
The government offered little sympathy.
“If you don’t want to suffer an economic loss to your business, don’t join a mob and then write on social media that it was the ‘best day of your life,’” Justice Department attorney Joshua Rothstein said Tuesday.
Chutkan was likewise unimpressed when Halverson pointed to Bissey’s immunocompromised status — she is “likely to suffer severe illness or even death” in lockup, Halverson said — as a basis to keep her out jail.
“You want me to take into account her health status and underlying illness, yet Ms. Bissey has not seen fit to do something about that, to alleviate that risk,” Chutkan said, referencing Bissey’s refusal to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. “That cannot be a reason why she gets a more lenient sentence.”
As for his client’s post-insurrection celebration on social media, Halverson told Chutkan that the gravity of Bissey’s actions may not have hit her right away but that she is now deeply ashamed and remorseful.
“She’s gregarious, she’s warm. I can promise you she’s not a monster. She’s a woman who made a mistake,” the lawyer said.
Chutkan opted not to give Bissey any probation, saying that the probation office is already overwhelmed and it would be a waste of resources.
Elsewhere at the courthouse Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden imposed a probationary sentence of one year on fellow Jan. 6 defendant Eliel Rosa.
“You participated in a shameful event, a national event that made us all feel less safe, less confident that this country can be run democratically, and not by mob rule,” McFadden told Rosa, a Brazilian immigrant who has been living in Texas since he was granted U.S. asylum.
Defense attorney Michelle Peterson noted that Rosa has been complying with the immigration court and will most likely receive additional consequences there. Rosa walked around in the Capitol with his co-defendant Jenney Cudd, and then turned himself into the FBI on Jan. 8 — just two days after the riot.
“He acted in a way that the vast majority of other individuals did not,” Amanda Fretto, a Justice Department attorney, noted Tuesday. McFadden underscored this point, saying he’d never heard of a person turning themselves in before they even became a suspect.
The government recommended one month of home confinement and three years of probation, but McFadden told Fretto that home confinement “feels odd” and he isn’t sure what it would accomplish.
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” Rosa quoted from James Madison’s Federalist 51, then said, “I’m definitely not an angel.”
Rosa thanked taxpayers for footing the bill for his public defender, said he would “humbly accept” whatever McFadden’s sentence was, and stated that he knew U.S. citizenship was a privilege, not a right.
“Your actions are even more surprising given your clear knowledge of our nation’s founding ideals,” McFadden said.
Like Bissey, Rosa pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of unlawful picketing.
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