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Jan. 6 defendant who put foot on desk in Pelosi's office sentenced to 4 and a half years in prison

Man seen at Pelosi's desk on Jan. 6 on trial
Man seen in picture sitting at Nancy Pelosi's desk during Jan. 6 attack now on trial 04:11

Washington — An Arkansas man who was photographed propping his foot on a desk in the House speaker's office during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was sentenced to 4 and a half years in prison on Wednesday, with a judge saying he had "not shown any acceptance of responsibility."

Richard "Bigo" Barnett was convicted on eight counts including civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding and theft of government property after a trial earlier this year. A photo showing him seated at a desk in then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office became one of the most indelible images of Jan. 6.

On Wednesday, he appeared in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before Judge Christopher Cooper, who handed down his sentence of 54 months. Prosecutors had sought a prison term of more than seven years, noting that Barnett admitted to entering the Capitol wielding a stun gun and carrying an American flag. Cooper seemed skeptical of some of the government's arguments and imposed a shorter sentence.

Barnett addressed the court during Wednesday's sentencing hearing, saying he was "not proud" of his conduct but arguing it was not "threatening."

"They want me to be remorseful for things I did not do," he said at one point, adding that he plans to appeal his convictions and "wasn't treated fairly."

"This was an enigma in my life," Barnett said, asking for a sentence of probation. "Jan. 6 was a traumatic day for everyone … I admit I was angry and I apologize for that." 

Richard Barnett inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Richard Barnett inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Prosecutors told the judge that Barnett played a "very important role" in delaying the certification of the 2020 election, saying, "We are not here because he was on the front of the New York Times."

His defense team argued that prosecutors went too far in bringing some of the most severe charges and said jurors in Washington, D.C., were biased against him, echoing a claim made by many Jan. 6 defendants before him. Prosecutors did not allege Barnett took part in any violent conduct. 

At trial and during Wednesday's sentencing hearing, prosecutors said the 63-year-old retired firefighter and bull rider prepared to travel to Washington ahead of Jan. 6 to keep Donald Trump in power. They said he made his way into the Capitol on the day of the riot after yelling at officers outside the building. Once inside, according to the government, Barnett stole an envelope, sat behind a desk in Pelosi's office and scrawled on a piece of paper, "Hey Nancy, Bigo was here you b*****." 

It was only after he threatened police and was hit with chemical spray in the Rotunda that the government says Barnett was forced out of the Capitol. Once outside, prosecutors allege Barnett "bragged" about his entry into the speaker's office and encouraged the other rioters, saying, "This is a war." He "immediately began celebrating his conquests," the government contended on Wednesday, even as the riot was still happening. 

Barnett testified in his own defense at trial and underwent a lengthy and, at times, heated cross-examination. He admitted to having regrets for using a vulgar, misogynistic phrase about Pelosi and for putting his feet on the desk. He testified he was a "f***ing idiot" on Jan. 6, but argued his acts were not criminal. 

Prosecutors alleged that much of the defendant's testimony from the stand was not true. Since the January trial, they said, he has "demonstrated his lack of remorse and refusal to take responsibility for his actions." Barnett's attorneys contended the government "has no evidence that Mr. Barnett perjured himself."

During sentencing on Wednesday, the judge listed numerous cases in which he found Barnett to have been untruthful on the stand and in court documents – calling them an "affront" — and dismissed claims that Barnett was involuntarily pushed into the Capitol and had no intention of impeding Congress.

Barnett, prosecutors said in court on Wednesday, expressed "downright mockery of the Justice System" even after he was convicted, and demonstrated an "absolute absence of remorse" for his actions that day. He has since tried to downplay the events of Jan. 6, the government argued, with "nonsensical" claims.

After his participation in the riot, according to prosecutors, Barnett even sold signed copies of photos depicting him sitting with his feet on the desk, "a picture that he characterized as 'the face of the new anti-federalist movement.'" Barnett said at sentencing that the ploy was his former attorney's idea and he never profited from the sales.

His defense team argued that the years-long penalty the government sought was unjust and rejected prosecutors' claims that the case was not solely about the picture of him behind the desk. 

"Mr. Barnett is here because of the picture," his defense attorney Jonathan Gross said in court. "The government was mad because Richard Barnett was sitting at a desk." 

"The worst accusations against Mr. Barnett amounted to 20 minutes of nonviolence in the Capitol, a stolen envelope, and literally seconds of verbal altercation with a police officer," his defense attorneys wrote in pretrial filings, arguing he brought the stun gun to Washington for self-protection. "Mr. Barnett never called for violence. Never called for insurrection. He was mad, but even in his anger his rhetoric was restrained and he never called for actual violence, not on January 6 and not for any time in the future."

Gross said Wednesday much of Barnett's language during the attack was "political rhetoric" and not a threat to officers. 

In sentencing Barnett to 54 months in prison, Cooper said Barnett had not shown remorse. 

"While you may regret having gone there that day, you have so far not shown any acceptance of responsibility," Cooper said, adding later, "You're too old for this nonsense." 

Cooper commended Barnett for his life leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, but said it was hard to reconcile the defendant's actions during the riot with the rest of his life. "It was not a spur-of-the-moment reaction," he said. 

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