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Woman whose marriage fell apart after Capitol riot pleads guilty

Jennifer Heinl told a federal judge that she wants to get her life back to normal and has been struggling with her mental health after Jan. 6. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — Overcoming some uncertainty about the charge against her, a Pennsylvania woman whose husband filed for divorce after she walked around the Capitol rotunda on Jan. 6 pleaded guilty Tuesday to her participation in the riot.

Jennifer Heinl, 55, wandered around the Capitol rotunda but didn’t engage in any violent or destructive behavior. She pleaded guilty to one count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building — with U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan prodding the Pennsylvania woman repeatedly on Tuesday about if she was sure she wanted to plead guilty, saying that he sensed some hesitation. 

Heinl’s attorney Martin Dietz chalked up his client's demeanor to unfamiliarity with the legalese: “When she hears parading, picketing and demonstrating — she wasn’t doing what is traditionally associated with those words,” Dietz explained. “She was just walking around.”

“Ms. Heinl absolutely understands she should not have been where she was on this date,” Dietz added.

As detailed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Heinl drove to Washington on Jan. 5 against the advice of her husband, who said she should stay back. 

Heinl's husband, a police detective of 30 years for the Shaler Township, filed for divorce in February. 

“I just need to get over this and get kind of like some normalcy,” Heinl told U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. “I’m guilty, and I just want to get my life back.” 

Heinl, who has a bachelor’s degree in organizational studies, told Sullivan that she is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, and that the events of Jan. 6 only aggravated her condition. 

She faces up to six months in prison, though will likely receive far less, as has generally been the case with other rioters who have pleaded guilty to the same charge. 

Earlier on Tuesday, Proud Boys leader Zachary Rehl asked a federal judge to reopen his detention hearing — one of several attempts that members of the extremist right-wing group have made to get out of jail. 

Prosecutors say that Rehl played a central role in directing other members of the Proud Boys during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. On Tuesday, however, defense attorney Jonathon Moseley told U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly that the evidence is not enough to conclude that Rehl was a key player in a Proud Boys inner circle. 

Moseley also argued that Rehl would not be a danger if released from pretrial detention. 

Another rioter, James McGrew, who assaulted several officers on Jan. 6. also asked a federal judge to be released from jail on Tuesday. 

Both judges said they would decide on the defendants' motions soon. 

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