Champaign County woman sentenced to more than 8 years in prison for role in Jan. 6 insurrection

May 26—A Champaign county woman and U.S Army veteran convicted of multiple crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison on Friday.

Jessica Watkins, a Woodstock resident, was convicted in December of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent members of Congress from discharging their duties and obstructing officers during civil disorder.

Watkins was tried with the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, and other members of the Oath Keepers. Rhodes and another co-defendant were found guilty of seditious conspiracy, the first time in about three decades the government has won such a conviction. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Jurors acquitted Watkins of the seditious conspiracy charge.

The Oath Keepers are a far-right group with many members who have ties to militias and with military or law enforcement backgrounds, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

At her sentencing hearing, Watkins apologized for her actions and said she opposes any attacks on police officers at the Capitol. She said while there, she attempted to stop people from "committing vandalism," but should not have been at the Capitol.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said during sentencing that although her role was not as violent or significant as others, Watkins inspired others to invade the Capitol and was more than a "foot soldier."

"Your role that day was more aggressive, more assaultive, more purposeful than perhaps others," Mehta told Watkins.

He said her comments immediately after the riot were celebratory rather than remorseful, though he appreciated her comments during sentencing.

During the trial, Watkins, who ran the now-closed Jolly Roger bar in Woodstock, surprised the judge and legal experts by testifying on her own behalf Nov. 16.

Watkins, a transgender woman, told jurors about struggles with her gender identity since childhood. She said she kept it from her parents for years and tried to keep it secret during her time in the U.S. Army.

Watkins went AWOL after a fellow soldier found her computer search history that included transgender support groups, and she eventually received a less-than honorable discharge.

Watkins testified it was a "really stupid" decision to storm the Capitol. She said she was no longer proud of what she did that day, but also said she never intended to interfere with the election certification and never heard any commands for her and other Oath Keepers to enter the building.

During her sentencing, Watkins referred to herself as "just another idiot running around the Capitol" and recognized that she would be punished for her actions.

Video and audio of her and others going up the steps and in the Capitol were presented to jurors during the trial.

Watkins, on the stand, essentially admitted to one of her charges, interfering with official police duties.

"I want to say I'm sorry to you," she said to jurors, "but I'd rather say I'm sorry to Christopher Owens, the police officer who was here."

Watkins said Owens was on the other side of the line, protecting officers and the Capitol "from my dumb ass."

At her sentencing hearing, Watkins said she wished the officer was there so she could apologize to him in person.

Watkins has the right to appeal her sentence within 14 days.