WASHINGTON — A nearly 30-year U.S. Army veteran said Wednesday he shouldn’t get jail time for his role in the Capitol riot – arguing he was “misled” by former President Donald Trump.
In a memo filed ahead of his sentencing on October 29, Ret. Lt. Col. Leonard Gruppo, of Lubbock, Texas, said he regrets putting his trust in an “amoral and untruthful president.”
“He wanted to support the President of the United States,” Gruppo’s attorney, Daniel R. Lindsey, wrote. “It was in his blood, in his training for 28 years in the military. After all, if you cannot trust your President, who can you trust?”
In August, Gruppo pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. He told investigators he and his long-time friend, Kenneth Kelly (who also pleaded guilty in September), traveled to D.C. on January 6 to hear Trump speak at the “Stop the Steal” rally and then traveled with other supporters of the former president to the U.S. Capitol after, Lindsey said, he heard Trump say he was going to join the crowd there.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Gruppo believed these falsehoods,” Lindsey said.
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Once there, despite hearing flash bangs and witnessing a group of rioters scaling an outer wall, Gruppo and Kelly entered the building through a door that had been kicked in 45 minutes prior.
Kelly was arrested in April and Gruppo self-surrendered to authorities two months later at his friend’s urging.
Gruppo faces a maximum of six months behind bars on the parading charge, but last week the Department of Justice asked a judge to sentence him to 30 days in jail. Other Capitol riot defendants who’ve pleaded to the same charge as Gruppo have received a range of sentences. Anna Morgan-Lloyd, an Indiana grandmother who was the first defendant sentenced in the case, was given three years of probation. More recently, five defendants, including Air Force veteran Derek Jancart, were sentenced to 45 days in jail for the parading charge.
In its sentencing memo, the Justice Department said Gruppo’s many years of military service exacerbate his participation in the riot.
“Instead of upholding his military oath to support and defend the Constitution, Gruppo disgraced himself and his country by participating in a riot that sought to undermine one of the most fundamental and cherished tenets of our democracy – the peaceful transition of power,” prosecutors wrote. “His 28 years of prior military service renders his participation in the riot more egregious.”
The DOJ said Gruppo also deleted evidence from his phone to try to hide his participation in January 6, and that his remorse for the event did not come until more than four months later, when Kelly urged him to turn himself in.
In addition to the sentencing memo, Gruppo wrote a letter himself to D.C. District Court Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell expressing his remorse and saying he takes “full responsibility for my actions.”
“I have served my country in four wars,” Gruppo wrote. “I have put my life on the line countless times for my country in those wars and many other deployments with the Special Force and other elite units… I should have known better but somehow did not, and I have already paid a very heavy price for that lapse in judgment.”
Gruppo also said in his letter he has sat for a voluntary interview with the January 6th Select Committee. The committee has interviewed a number of witnesses, including former acting U.S. Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, but their names have largely not been released.
Gruppo is scheduled to appear in-person before Howell on October 29 to be sentenced.
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