WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps veteran and Proud Boy who used a stolen police riot shield to cause the first breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.
Dominic Pezzola, a 45-year-old flooring contractor from Rochester, New York, was convicted in May alongside four other members of the Proud Boys following a lenghty jury trial. Although jurors acquitted him of joining his co-defendants’ seditious conspiracy, they convicted him on multiple other counts, including conspiring against members of Congress or law enforcement, destruction of government property and assaulting and robbing U.S. Capitol Police Officer Marc Ode of his riot shield.
Prosecutors described Pezzola as the "literal poster boy" for the Proud Boys' conspiracy. Footage of him using Ode's shield to smash in a window on the Capitol's Senate Wing — causing the first breach of the building through which hundreds of other rioters poured through — became one of the earliest and most memorable images of the riot.
After entering the building himself, Pezzola recorded a video smoking a cigar and bragging, "I knew we could take this motherf***er if we just tried hard enough."
In their sentencing memo, prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly to sentence Pezzola to 20 years in prison. On Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson described him as an “enthusiastic foot soldier” in the Proud Boys’ plan.
“What transpired on Jan. 6 was the kind of political violence that Pezzola signed up for the Proud Boys to partake in,” Kenerson said.
Pezzola's attorney, Steve Metcalf, argued for a much lighter sentence that would allow him to be released from prison at an age where he could resume work as a flooring contractor. He also argued Pezzola, who took the stand during his trial and blamed police for inciting the violence at the Capitol, should receive credit for accepting responsibility. Kelly denied that request.
A day earlier, Kelly sentenced two of Pezzola's co-defendants, Proud Boys Joe Biggs and Zachary Rehl, to 17 and 15 years in prison, respectively. He acknowledged Friday that unlike those men, Pezzola had been acquitted of the seditious conspiracy charge. But he also said Pezzola's assault on police and his unique role in causing the first breach of the Capitol made him an individually significant factor in the attack on the Capitol.
"You really were in some ways the tip of the spear that allowed people to get into the Capitol," Kelly said.
"You opened up the Capitol like a can opener," he added a minute later.
Despite the seriousness of Pezzola's conduct, Kelly said he was granting a significant downward variance because he believed a terrorism enhancement he applied at the government's request overstated the offense. He gave a similar explanation Thursday when he varied downward in Biggs' and Rehl's sentences, saying he believed the enhancement was designed for criminal acts that caused or sought to cause mass loss of life.
Pezzola's 10-year sentence falls seven years below the bottom end of his sentencing guideline range and a decade below the sentence prosecutors requested. Judges overseeing Jan. 6 cases have consistently sentenced defendants below the levels sought by the Justice Department, even in cases where defendants were convicted of the rarely used seditious conspiracy charge. In a small number of cases, the DOJ has appealed sentences it views as too far below the guidelines — including Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Prosecutors had sought 25 years for the militia founder.
Pezzola spoke briefly before Kelly handed down his sentence Friday, tearfully asking for mercy and saying he was done with politics.
"Your honor, I stand before you as a changed and humbled man," Pezzola said. "But, nonetheless as a man who has always taken responsibility for his actions... I have never denied what I did on J6."
Minutes later, after hearing his sentence — and once Kelly had left the bench — a smiling Pezzola raised his hand as he was led out of court by U.S. Marshals and shouted, "Trump won!"
Metcalf requested Pezzola be recommended for placement at the federal correctional facility at Fort Dix in New Jersey, where his co-defendant Rehl also requested placement. Pezzola will receive credit for approximately two-and-a-half years already spent in jail since his arrest.