WASHINGTON — A federal judge sentenced a Missouri couple who lied to the FBI about their role in the Capitol riot to probation Thursday, saying he believed they had been fed lies about the 2020 election.
Zachary and Kelsey Wilson appeared before U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta for sentencing on one count each of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. The charge is a petty misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of up to 6 months in prison. The Justice Department asked for the Wilsons to serve 14 days in jail each followed by three years of probation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Strain told Mehta the Wilsons had traveled all around the interior of the Capitol after entering – Zachary through a broken window and Kelsey through a breached door – including an office belonging to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. He also said the Wilsons lied to the FBI about their involvement. It was a point Mehta later asked Zachary about.
“Why not tell the truth to the FBI?” he asked.
“I just panicked, your honor. I just panicked,” Wilson said. “I was thinking of my kids. I didn’t want to lose my kids.”
“You’re lucky the government didn’t charge you with false statements,” Mehta told him. “You could be looking at far worse consequences. I hope you appreciate that.”
The Wilsons were represented by attorneys Joanne D. Slaight and Kira Anne West, who painted a picture of them as unsophisticated news consumers who were inflamed by overblown coverage of Black Lives Matter protests and former President Donald Trump’s election fraud lies. West identified cable news host Tucker Carlson, who draws an audience of more than 4.5 million viewers some nights, in particular as a source of the information that drove the Wilsons to the Capitol:
“Mrs. Wilson, like millions of other Americans, ate up the media coverage of these events in the Summer of 2020. She saw the media label destructive and violent riots as ‘mostly peaceful’ protests and the protestors praised on national media outlets for their strongly held beliefs. And while most of the BLM protests in the summer of 2020 were, in fact, peaceful, a report studying these protests found a large number of Americans believed they were not. The report suggested that the ‘disparity stems from political orientation and biased media framing… such as disproportionate coverage of violent demonstrations.’”
Before her sentencing, Judge Mehta asked Kelsey Wilson what was on her mind as she entered the Capitol. She again mentioned the BLM protests.
“Your honor, I love my country,” she said. “Seeing everything over the last year… seeing cities burn and seeing people so divided, I simply got caught up.”
Mehta told the Wilsons they contributed to a riot that “marred” the country’s tradition of a peaceful transition of power.
“That’s not something that anybody ought to downplay or suggest could be justified by any earlier events over the summer,” he said. “It’s really not justifiable.”
But Mehta also told the Wilsons he thought they had been “victimized” themselves – echoing comments he made in a November sentencing for another defendant, John Lolos. Mehta told Lolos, who also pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor parading charge, that he had been used as a “pawn in a game played by people who know better.”
“You were told lies about election fraud, about the country being taken from you. You believed them. And you acted on them,” Mehta told the Wilsons on Thursday.
Mehta sentenced Lolos to 14 days behind bars, but on Thursday, he decided on a probationary sentence for the Wilsons. Each was ordered to serve 24 months of probation. Zachary Wilson was ordered to serve 45 days on home detention, and Kelsey Wilson was ordered to serve 30 days on home detention. Their detention periods will be staggered since they have young children to take care of. Mehta said he hoped the sentence would allow them to keep their jobs and to move forward.
"I think you're decent, hardworking Americans who regrettably were caught up in something,” Mehta said. “I think if you could do it again, you would not.”
As of Thursday, more than 200 defendants had pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Those cases include at least 20 felony defendants, including former U.S. Army private Nicholas Languerand, who was sentenced on Wednesday to more than 3 years in prison.
We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.