Champaign County woman charged with seditious conspiracy for US Capitol actions

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Jan. 14—A Champaign County woman was charged in federal court this week with the rare and serious charge of seditious conspiracy related to alleged actions involving the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol breach in Washington, D.C.

Court documents show Jessica Watkins of Woodstock is now charged with seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, and other charges. She was indicted in connection to the Capitol riot where authorities say protesters who supported then-President Donald Trump attempted to obstruct Congress from certifying the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Watkins was previously charged with Donovan Crowl, also from Champaign County, and Sandra and Bennie Parker, from Warren County. Crowl and the Parkers are not charged with sedition and the three are now charged together in a different but related case, the Department of Justice said.

Watkins was indicted with 10 other people — including the founder of the Oathkeepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III. Authorities said Watkins was in communication with members of the group before and on Jan. 6 and that she marched with others up the steps and into the Capitol during the breach.

The new indictment says after entering the Capitol, Watkins was a part of a group that tried to enter the Senate chambers before being repelled by police. It says others attempted to find House Speaker Nancy Pelosi but were unsuccessful.

Her attorney Shelli Peterson declined to comment when reached Friday. Watkins has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the Capitol breach in the past and she remains in jail pending the outcome of the case.

The seditious conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, the DOJ said, but if there is a conviction, a judge will consider the federal sentencing guidelines and other factors before making a ruling.

"Any conduct or speech which encourages ... people not to protest, but to rebel against the authority of a government is sedition," said Joel Hirschhorn, a veteran criminal defense attorney who's defended hundreds of state and federal cases. "It is the crime of creating a serious disturbance, violence against lawful civil authority with intent to overthrow the government."

He said charging a person with seditious conspiracy is very rare and more serious than the previous conspiracy charge Watkins faced.

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