Feds wanted N.C. man jailed for 5 years for Jan. 6 crimes. The judge had a different idea.

U.S. Justice Department/U.S. Justice Department

Federal prosecutors argued that a North Carolina man should be sent to prison for almost five years as punishment for his crimes during the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Instead, a Washington, D.C., judge sent Matthew Wood home.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Wood, 25, to one year of home confinement and three years of probation — a clear rejection of the government’s recommended 57 months. Wood also must perform 100 hours of community service and pay $2,000 in restitution.

“I’m super grateful that we had a judge with such wisdom and compassion, who carefully considered all the evidence and arguments presented by both parties,” defense attorney Kira West told The Charlotte Observer after Mehta’s decision.

“I harbor no ill will toward the prosecutors. But they should not overreach in these cases and make the evidence something that it is not.”

Wood was among the thousands of supporters of defeated President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to stop congressional certification of Trump’s election defeat and keep Trump in power. Five deaths have been tied to the violence.

Wood pleaded guilty in May to a series of felony and misdemeanor charges tied to the riot.

His avoidance of active prison time, especially for a confessed felon, is somewhat rare. More than 900 arrests have been made to date in the sprawling Jan. 6 investigation. More than a third of the defendants (about 320) have been sentenced. Only 70 have received home detention.

Wood’s case, however, featured an unusually angry public debate over an appropriate punishment. In separate court filings, West described the prosecution mounted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sean Murphy and David Henek as both “ravenous” and driven by a “seething animosity” toward her client.

She accused the government attorneys of recommending a prison sentence that up to now has been reserved for the most violent of the Jan. 6 rioters. Except, in Wood’s case, she said, they had not proven Wood had been violent at any point.

Mehta apparently agreed. His sentence of home confinement closely followed what West had recommended, though he told Wood that his “serious error in judgment” on Jan. 6 had left him with a lifelong criminal record, according to West.

Afterward, West described Wood as “doing great.”

“Matt is happy, thankful. He’s a fine young man. It’s been an honor for me to represent him,” she said.

William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., which is handling the Jan. 6 cases, declined comment to the Observer on Monday.

‘Braveheart’ at the Capitol

In 2021, Wood, then 23, drove to Washington with his grandmother and a friend to attend the Jan. 6 rally by Trump in which the lame duck Republican repeated his baseless claims of a stolen election.

Wood then joined thousands of other angry Trump supporters in their march to overrun the Capitol.

In their sentencing memorandum, Murphy and Henek say Wood expected violence and was eager to take part.

“I am down for whatever they want to do!,” Wood said in a message he sent four days before the riot. “If they want to raid Congress, sign me up, I’ll be brave heart in that bitch.”

On the night before the assault, Wood sent another message — that if he died on Jan. 6, he was leaving his car to a friend. The car was red, Wood wrote, “like the blood I will shed.”

Wood, according to the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation, was an eyewitness in the Capitol as “grossly outnumbered police officers were being viciously attacked and overrun by rioters. And then Wood went deeper. His aggression and yelling and incitement were not tempered when he saw the fear in the faces of police officers, it was inflamed.”

But for all their detailed descriptions, the prosecutors never tied Wood directly to violence. Wood waved a Trump flag outside the building and beckoned others to join the assault. He sent boastful messages out on social media that he was fighting with police but never did.

“He did not cause any damage, nor did he engage in violence,” West wrote in her sentencing memo. “... Nor did he engage in actively encouraging violence. That’s different than encouraging others to protest.”

Afterward, Wood expressed both exultation and remorse at what he had seen and done.

“I don’t regret my actions because they were honest and pure actions to send my government, Congress a message,” Wood wrote on Jan. 8.

“We patriots fought for our country. Few died for this cause, many injured because of it ... I am proud I took a stand. But the things I experienced is nothing to be proud about.”

He later called the FBI and turned himself in.

Before his sentencing, Wood sent a letter to Mehta, an Obama appointee, apologizing for what he had done and asking for the chance to rebuild his life.

“I neglected one of America’s most valued rights, the right to protest. I went too far,” he wrote.

Wood is among at least 25 N.C. residents charged in connection with the riot. Eight, including Wood, have pleaded guilty to felony charges.

Former Fort Bragg soldier James Mault received 44 months after being caught on camera outside the Capitol repeatedly attacking police with chemical spray. That remains the longest sentence handed down against an N.C. defendant in the case.

Another N.C. rioter, Easton Cantwell of the Asheville area, is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 6.

He has pleaded guilty to a list of crimes similar to Wood’s. Cantwell’s prosecutors have recommended he serve five months.