WASHINGTON (AP) — A Florida man who stormed the U.S. Capitol with other members of the far-right Oath Keepers group was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for seditious conspiracy and other charges — the latest in a historic string of sentences in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.
David Moerschel, 45, a neurophysiologist from Punta Gorda, was convicted in January alongside three other members of the antigovernment extremist group for their roles in what prosecutors described as a violent plot to stop the transfer power from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden after the 2020 election.
Moerschel was a lower-level defendant among the nine people associated with the Oath Keepers who were tried for seditious conspiracy. Six were convicted of the rarely used Civil War-era charge in two separate trials, including the group's founder Stewart Rhodes. Rhodes was sentenced last week to 18 years in prison — a record for a Jan. 6 defendant. Three defendants were cleared of the sedition charge but found guilty of other Jan. 6 crimes.
Prosecutors had sought 10 years in prison for Moerschel, who they say was a lower-level member who helped amass guns and ammunition to stash in a Virginia hotel for a so-called “quick reaction force” that could be quickly shuttled to Washington. The weapons were never deployed. He provided an AR-15 and a Glock semi-automatic handgun, prosecutors said.
“The security of our country and the safety of democracy should not hinge on the impulses of madmen,” Justice Department prosecutor Troy Edwards said.
Moerschel told the judge he was deeply ashamed of forcing his way into the Capitol and joining the riot that seriously injured police officers and sent staffers running in fear.
“When I was on the stairs, your honor, I felt like God said to me, ‘Get out here.’ And I didn’t,” he said in court, his voice cracking with emotion. “I disobeyed God and I broke laws."
Moerschel was a neurophysiologist who monitored surgical patients under anesthesia before his arrest, though he's since been fired and now works in construction and landscaping. A former missionary, he is married with three children.
In handing down a sentence far shorter than what prosecutors sought, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta noted that Moerschel committed serious crimes, but wasn't a top leader or planner in the group. He was in the Capitol for about 12 minutes, and didn’t do anything violent or scream at police officers, he noted. Moerschel quickly disassociated himself with the Oath Keepers after the riot and handed his guns over to police, the judge said.
“Sentencing shouldn’t be vengeful, it shouldn’t be such that it is unduly harsh simply for the sake of being harsh,” said the judge, who also imposed a three-year term of supervised release.
One of Moerschel's co-defendants, Joseph Hackett, of Sarasota, Florida, is expected to be sentenced later Friday. Hackett repeatedly warned other Oath Keepers about “leaks” and the need to secure their communications before Jan. 6, and later changed his online screen names, authorities have said.
On Jan. 6, both men were dressed in paramilitary gear when they marched into the Capitol with fellow Oath Keepers in a line, or “stack” formation, making their way through the crowd linked together with hands on each other’s shoulders, charging documents stated. The group met up with Rhodes after leaving the Capitol.
Defense attorneys have said there was never a plan to attack the Capitol and the case was largely built on online messages cherry-picked out of context. Moerschel became disillusioned with the Oath Keepers shortly after leaving the Capitol and soon left Washington and the group itself, his lawyer has said.
Moerschel's attorneys asked for home confinement, arguing that he joined the Oath Keepers chats shortly before the riot and was not a leader.
“He was just in the back following the crowd,” attorney Scott Weinberg told the judge.
The charges against leaders of the Oath Keepers and another far-right extremist group, the Proud Boys, are among the most serious brought in the Justice Department’s sprawling riot investigation. Prosecutors have also won seditious conspiracy convictions in the case against former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and three other group leaders in what prosecutors said was a separate plot to keep Trump in the White House.
By LINDSAY WHITEHURST Associated Press
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