BROOKLYN (CN) — Challenging calls for the first man to sit trial in connection to the insurrection to spend years in prison, defense attorneys argued Tuesday that Brendan Hunt is a changed man after his experience in jail, which included a bond with singer R. Kelly.
Hunt, 37, was convicted of threatening to kill government officials in a video titled “Kill Your Senators,” which he posted to the internet on Jan. 8, two days after a deadly riot in Washington waged by supporters of then-President Trump. Facing the camera, he told viewers to return to the scene with weapons.
“We need to go back to the U.S. Capitol, when all of the senators and a lot of the representatives are back there, and this time we have to show up with our guns,” Hunt said in the video, posted on the streaming platform BitChute. “And we need to slaughter these motherfuckers.”
A jury would later deem those worss “true threats.” But while panel found that the statements in the videos were grounds for conviction, they also determined that Facebook posts targeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — all elected Democrats — fell short of breaking the law.
Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen to sentence Hunt, who did not attend the riot, to a prison sentence between 51 to 63 months. If the judge agrees to those guidelines, it will be the longest sentence yet in a Capitol riot case.
Asking for a sentence of time served, Hunt’s attorneys say he has turned his life around after being in custody since his January arrest.
“In these past 10 months he underwent a transformation not unlike someone put through a boot camp,” wrote Jan Rostal of the Federal Defenders of New York. “He learned to look down, not ask questions, accept his subservience. He also learned to recognize how hard the job is on prison staff and to observe the level of disrespect they, too, must endure.”
Rostal said Hunt has spoken about “eye-opening moments” in jail that changed him.
“He has made lasting friendships with some of the most unlikely characters, and talks meaningfully and empathetically about their plights and struggles with an understanding of the privilege he has enjoyed in his life.’ He shakes his head now at the thought of how angry it made him that the showerhead didn’t work or the doorbell hadn’t been fixed,” Rostal wrote.
One of Hunt’s unlikely connections was disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly, who was recently convicted on charges stemming from a decades-long abusive sex ring that included minors.
Hunt and Kelly shared a cell at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center for two weeks, the New York Daily News reported, while Kelly awaited trial on racketeering and Mann Act violations. The 54-year-old “I Believe I Can Fly” singer was found guilty on all nine counts against him after a month and a half of testimony.
Meeting Kelly apparently made an impression on Hunt, who drew a comic of the duo talking about music and practicing yoga together, and getting incredibly fit.
In the illustrations, Hunt tells Kelly, referred to as Hunt’s “sidekick,” that he didn’t know his music. Kelly serenaded Hunt while the two were incarcerated together, according to Hunt’s attorneys, who submitted the comic as a sentencing exhibit.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Richardson argued that Hunt’s sentence should reflect the seriousness of potentially encouraging others to attack members of Congress.
“The content of the defendant’s video, which evoked the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and came just days after the event, further amplified the risk that other like-minded individuals would be inspired by the defendant’s explicit calls to murder Members of Congress on January 20th,” Richardson wrote in his memo.
More than 600 Capitol rioters have been charged, and at least 10 have been sentenced to prison time, running as short as 14 days, according to figures made available by the U.S. Department of Justice. The longest sentence so far — 14 months — was handed to Troy Smocks, a 58-year-old Dallas man who pleaded guilty to transmitting threats in interstate commerce.
In sentencing Hunt, Richardson asked Judge Chen to consider instances in Hunt’s personal life where he “spiral[ed] out of control” over minor slights. He pointed to text messages read at trial in which Hunt threatened to “stick a knife in” his cousin’s child because his cousin had unfriended Hunt on Facebook.
Hunt told prosecutors at trial that he was drunk and “mouthing off” when he sent the text. Richardson argued that Hunt’s behavior is a habit.
“The defendant’s extreme response to his anger over the result of the 2020 presidential election is only the latest example in a pattern of defiant behavior in which the defendant verbally or physically lashes out against real and imagined adversaries and authority figures at the slightest provocation,” Richardson wrote.
In the “Kill Your Senators” video, Hunt, who was a court system employee before his arrest, refers to the government as a “ZOG,” a term used by white supremacists to mean “Zionist-Occupied Government.”
Trial exhibits included further evidence of anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant leanings, including text messages Hunt sent his father, a retired Queens family court judge, in which he used racial slurs, stated that “previous generations were right to be suspicious of immigrants,” and referred New York City as “Jew York Shitty.”
FBI agents found a video on Hunt’s laptop in which he referenced killing “juice,” a comment Hunt characterized as a joke about killing Jewish people during his own testimony.
Hunt constantly created, Rostal wrote in her memo, and the racist content shouldn’t represent his entire character: His hard drives and devices also contained songs lyrics he wrote about corporate tyranny; photos of family and friends; and a video of Hunt getting arrested as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“Mr. Hunt deserves to be understood as a full-spectrum human being and not packaged as a villain who is to be feared and loathed,” Rostal wrote.
“He has learned lessons that could have been learned an easier way, to be sure. He has had to examine himself; he has come to a better understanding of the dangers of letting simple discussions and exchanges morph into political or personal outrage.”
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