WASHINGTON (WUSA9 / AP) - A North Carolina man who fired an assault rifle inside D.C. restaurant Comey Ping Pong during his investigation of a conspiracy theory dubbed "pizzagate" has been sentenced to four years in prison.
Judge Ketanji Jackson sentenced Edgar Maddison Welch Thursday in federal court in Washington. His attorney had asked that he be sentenced to 1½ years in prison. Prosecutors asked for 4½ years.
“We must impose a sentence at the higher end of the guidelines because other people will see what you have done and be inspired by it,” Judge Jackson said.
Welch pleaded guilty in March and acknowledged that he entered Comet Ping Pong Dec. 4 with an AR-15 assault weapon and a revolver. He said he drove to the restaurant from North Carolina to investigate an unfounded conspiracy theory about Democrats harboring child sex slaves at the pizza restaurant.
On Thursday, newly released video taken by Welch showed him driving to D.C. ahead of his planned confrontation.
According to court documents:
"He told them that he loved them; that he hoped he had “showed it”; and that he hoped he would be able to “tell [them] again.” Id. He said that he could not let his daughters “grow up in a world that has been so corrupted by evil” and that he had to stand up for them. Id. He told his daughters that he was trying to protect people who could not protect themselves, and that he hoped they would understand that someday. Id. The video shows that, during his drive to Washington, D.C., the defendant was lucid, deadly serious, and very aware that his planned confrontation would likely leave him dead or in jail."
“Your actions have left psychological wreckage in their wake,” Judge Jackson added.
Three Comet employees, including the owner, testified to that statement.
The manager who was on duty at the time said his girlfriend and parents were at home crying for eight hours straight because they didn’t know whether their loved one was alive or dead.
“I just wanted to sink into the ground, and I now have nightmares with all different outcomes of that day playing out,” the manager said.
The workers who spoke appeared to be visibly shaken six months after the incident. One of them trembled while addressing the court. It was their chance to tell Welch how his action impacted their lives, but also to address others who spread fake news like “Pizzagate.”
“I’m almost sorry you were duped. I’m almost sorry the people who inspired you to travel to our restaurant now think you were a hired actor. I’ve never harmed anyone. Shame on you for thinking otherwise,” one employee said.
“I feel more empathy for you than anger, and you’ve been a pawn of misguided media and of people eager to take advantage of you,” the manager added.
“I hope one day in a more truthful world we see this day as an aberration,” said Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis. “I hope those who promote conspiracies will wake up and realize the harm of their own actions, and I hope reason will prevail.”
Welch apologized at his sentencing. When asked if he believed the apology, Alefantis said, “His apology was not clear to us. We don’t know what exactly was in his mind.”
While Welch was sentenced to four years, he’s getting credit for six months of time already served.
“I will now try to rebuild my life, my name, and my business,” Alefantis said.
WUSA9 / AP