Washington — A U.S. Olympic gold medalist in swimming who admitted to being a part of the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and obstructing Congress' work in certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election that day was sentenced Friday to three years probation and six months of home detention.
Klete Keller pleaded guilty in 2021 to the felony crime of obstruction of an official proceeding after he was recognized inside the Capitol Rotunda during the riot because of a U.S.A. athletic jacket he wore. He admitted to later trying to delete evidence on his phone and throwing away the jacket, according to court records.
The Justice Department says he has since cooperated with investigators and helped in various cases, assistance that they said should be credited at sentencing.
"If there was one case that screamed out for probation, this is it," Judge Richard Leon said Friday as he opted not to impose any prison time. The judge called the case very usual and distinct from the other Jan. 6 cases he has presided over, noting Keller's remorse and desire to serve.
"Klete Derik Keller once wore the American flag as an Olympian. On January 6, 2021, he threw that flag in a trash can," prosecutors wrote in their pre-sentencing filings, urging the judge to sentence the former Olympic athlete to 10 months in prison. The defendant, they said, did not leave the Capitol when police demanded and instead chose to stay "because his preferred candidate lost an election."
"He put the officers, Members of Congress, their staff, and everyone else inside in danger," prosecutors argued in court filings.
Keller swam for the U.S. in three consecutive Summer Olympics beginning in 2000 in Sydney. He was a member of the teams that won gold in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay in Athens in 2004 and again Beijing in 2008. He also won two bronze medals in individual events and one silver in another relay.
But Keller and his defense team asked for leniency, telling the judge in court filings that he now "recognizes the gravity of his involvement" in the attack on Jan. 6 and has a wife and children to care for.
"The sum total of Mr. Keller's actions while inside the Capitol building can be described as follows: mulling around the Rotunda taking pictures and videos, observing a group of protesters near the Ohio Clock Room engaging with a line of police officers—during which time Mr. Keller yelled, 'F*** Nancy Pelosi' and 'F*** Chuck Schumer,'" they wrote, "and brush[ed] aside a police officer's hand from his arm who was attempting to direct the larger crowd out of the Rotunda."
Keller himself wrote a letter to the judge ahead of Friday's proceedings in which he said he "deeply regret[s]" his actions.
"I broke important laws that protect the public servants who work at the Capitol," Keller wrote to Judge Leon, adding, "I hope my case serves as a warning to anyone who rationalizes illegal conduct, especially in a moment of political fervor."
In court on Friday, Keller admitted his actions had caused "damage to the electoral process," and he apologized to the victims including members of Congress and those who voted in the 2020 election.
Prosecutors told the judge that the gold medalist had cooperated early and often with the federal investigation into the attack, which they said "undoubtedly reached thousands of others weighing whether to turn themselves in, plead guilty, or even cooperate."
"Keller's conduct on January 6 was grave and warrants serious punishment," prosecutors wrote in court flings. "His cooperative conduct after, however, is also relevant."
The prosecutor on Friday told the court that remorse matters, and he, too, struggled to determine which sentence would be a "just outcome" for the case.
In sentencing Keller, Leon said he expects the Olympian to complete 360 hours of community service, including by speaking to students about the lessons he learned as a result of the Jan. 6 attack.
"I expect you to succeed," Leon told Keller, who replied that he wouldn't let the judge down.
Leaving court on Friday evening, Keller's attorney said he was happy with the result.
Stefan Becket contributed to this report.
for more features.