By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The sentencing hearings for two former leaders of the right-wing Proud Boys who were convicted of seditious conspiracy and other crimes for the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters were abruptly postponed on Wednesday after the judge called out sick, a court spokesperson said.
Former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio and another former leader, Ethan Nordean, were supposed to be the first of five Proud Boys to face sentencing this week, with three other co-defendants due to be sentenced on Thursday and Friday.
Nordean is now due to be sentenced on Sept. 1 along with co-defendant Dominic Pezzola, while Tarrio will be sentenced on Sept. 5 at 2 p.m. E.T., according to the court's public docket. The judge will sentence defendants Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehlon on Thursday, as planned.
Prosecutors will ask U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly to sentence Tarrio to 33 years in prison and Nordean to 27 years.
Those recommendations exceed the longest sentence handed out so far over the assault by the former president's supporters on the seat of government, including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who was sentenced in May to serve 18 years.
The attack was meant to stop Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden's election, which Trump falsely claims was the result of widespread fraud.
Trump currently holds a wide lead in the race for the Republican nomination to challenge Biden in 2024.
Prosecutors also want the judge to agree to terrorism enhancement for Tarrio and his co-defendants - a move that has the potential to add roughly 15 years to a prison term.
"These defendants and the men in their command saw themselves as the foot soldiers of the right — they were prepared to use, and they did use, force to stop the 'traitors' from stealing the election,'" federal prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
Attorneys for Tarrio and Nordean will ask the judge to reject the terrorism enhancement request.
"While the instant offenses are serious in nature, they are nowhere near and should not be grouped in the same category ... as the heinous acts committed by individuals such as Timothy James McVeigh," Tarrio's attorneys wrote, referring to the man who carried out the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
More than 1,000 people have been arrested on charges related to the Capitol assault, and of those at least 570 have pleaded guilty and 78 have been convicted at trial.
Five people including a police officer died during or shortly after the riot and more than 140 police officers were injured. The Capitol suffered millions of dollars in damage.
Special Counsel Jack Smith, who was tapped to investigate broader efforts to overturn the 2020 election, has since charged Trump for trying to keep himself in power.
In May, a jury convicted Tarrio and Nordean along with Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl of seditious conspiracy, a Civil War-era law that makes it a crime to conspire to oppose the government by force, and other felonies.
Prosecutors are seeking 33 years for Biggs and 30 years for Rehl, although their lawyer plans on Thursday to ask for much lighter sentences.
Pezzola was acquitted of the seditious conspiracy charge but convicted alongside the others of other felonies including obstructing an official proceeding. Prosecutors are requesting a 20-year sentence for him.
All the defendants except Tarrio entered the Capitol during the attack. Prosecutors said they were among the first to charge past protective barricades.
Tarrio was not in Washington that day after being ordered by a judge to stay out of the city following a Jan. 4 arrest for burning a Black Lives Matter banner at a church. But prosecutors said he helped direct the attack from Baltimore.
Capitol Police described at a hearing on Tuesday the toll the attack took on them.
"I will never forget attempting to aid another officer and being violently dragged down by my riot shield," former Capitol Police Officer Mark Ode wrote in a letter submitted to the court that a prosecutor read aloud.
Ode, whose riot shield was stolen by Pezzola, said that at one point during the assault he experienced a "vivid vision" of his own funeral as he gasped for air.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Mark Porter)