Today's Paper Newsletters LEARNS Guide Fish Story Contest 🎣 Asa Hutchinson 2024 Today's Photos Public Notices Digital FAQ Razorback Sports Puzzles Crime Distribution Locations Obits

U.S. relentlessly pursued Barnett because of his fame, attorney argues

by Bill Bowden | May 19, 2023 at 5:22 a.m.
Attorney Jonathan Gross stands with his client, Richard "Bigo" Barnett of Gravette, outside federal court in Washington in this Jan. 23, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bill Bowden)

The federal government has relentlessly pursued Richard "Bigo" Barnett of Gravette, whose behavior during the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, warrants months of incarceration, not years, his attorney argued in a sentencing memorandum filed late Wednesday.

The government is seeking to disproportionately punish Barnett "simply because his case is famous," according to Jonathan Gross, Barnett's attorney.

"Richard Barnett is one of the most famous January 6 cases because of a picture of him sitting with his foot on a desk in the office suite of the Speaker of the House," wrote Gross. "Mr. Barnett is a 63-year-old retired firefighter and bull rider from rural Arkansas who came to D.C. for his very first time to peacefully protest and was unfortunately caught up in the events that turned an ordinary Wednesday into what will forever be known as 'January 6.'"

After a two-week trial in January, a jury in Washington deliberated for two hours and seven minutes before finding Barnett guilty of all eight charges he faced in connection with the Capitol riot -- four felonies and four misdemeanors.

Barnett is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday. He faces a maximum of 47 years in prison. Gross said a presentence report from a probation officer suggested Barnett serve five years in prison.

Prosecutors have recommended that Barnett be sent to prison for 87 months -- or 7.25 years, which is at the top of the applicable 70-to-87-month sentencing guidelines range. They also recommend that Barnett be fined $25,000 and ordered to pay $2,000 restitution.

In his filing, Gross said his client should be sentenced to 12 months at the most and credited for four months he has already served in the District of Columbia jail. Gross wrote that an additional 24 months of probation, 100 hours of community service, and $500 restitution "is sufficient and fair."

"When comparing Mr. Barnett's circumstances to those along the wide spectrum of other January 6 defendants, Mr. Barnett's conduct on January 6 is not remotely similar to those who received sentences of seven years or more," wrote Gross. "At worst, he is analogous to those who received six to twelve months of incarceration."

Gross cites some examples, but the government cites others.

In their sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday, prosecutors compared Barnett's case to that of Thomas Robertson, an off-duty police officer from Virginia who carried a large wooden stick into the Capitol and confronted police officers.

"In Robertson, the defendant was convicted of the same four felony offenses as Barnett and sentenced to 87 months of imprisonment," wrote prosecutors. "Robertson's Guidelines were 87 to 108 months, two levels higher than Barnett's, because Robertson received a 2-level aggravating role enhancement that did not apply to Barnett. Otherwise, their Guidelines calculations were essentially identical.

"Like Robertson, Barnett has no criminal history points and did not commit an assault," according to prosecutors. "Like Robertson, Barnett's post-January 6 conduct exhibits a lack of remorse and a continuation of spreading falsities, including Barnett's claim on social media that his worst offense was 'yelling' at officers, and that the officers he yelled at were 'murdering innocent protestors.'"

Robertson received a 2-level aggravating role enhancement for organizing the trip to Washington for several others, according to prosecutors. And Robertson threatened to cause physical injury with his walking stick.

In many ways, Barnett's conduct was worse than Robertson's, according to prosecutors. Barnett made "express verbal threats" to Metropolitan Police Officer Terrence Craig, threatening to "make it real bad" for Craig if someone didn't retrieve an American flag he had left in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office. Prosecutors also argue that Barnett threatened to bring other protesters over to challenge the police line Craig was protecting in the Capitol Rotunda.

Barnett's weapon also was "far more dangerous" than Robertson's, according to prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper sentenced Robertson to 87 months, or 7.25 years, in prison. Cooper is also presiding over Barnett's sentencing.

In his filing, Gross wrote that Barnett "became unwittingly famous for putting his foot on a desk," but that conduct wasn't criminal by itself.

Barnett wasn't charged for putting his foot on a desk. The more serious charges against him involved taking a "dangerous weapon," a stun gun, into the Capitol and interfering with a police officer during a civil disorder.

According to prosecutors, Barnett left a note for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that read, "Nancy, Bigo was here you biotch."

But that note wasn't threatening, according to Gross.

"Mr. Barnett has regretted what he now considers a juvenile joke made in bad taste from the moment he left D.C., but it was not a crime," wrote Gross. "The joke simply indicated that he was there and called the Congresswoman a bad word. One can only assume that all elected officials routinely receive similar letters."

While in Pelosi's office suite, Barnett bled on an envelope, so he took it and left a quarter for it. During his trial in January, he said he took the envelope because it was a bio-hazard.

"The fact that the Government included the theft of a single envelope in the charges against Mr. Barnett is the strongest evidence that, despite its rhetoric, the Government considers Mr. Barnett to be a petty trespasser deserving at most a few months in prison," wrote Gross.

Twelve months is a fair sentence for Barnett, his attorney wrote in the memorandum.

"Not all January 6 cases are equal," according to Gross. "Mr. Barnett did not engage in violence, did not assault police, did not destroy property, and did not use a deadly weapon against another person.

"The Government's relentless pursuit to punish Mr. Barnett left him no choice but to go to trial because the Government's plea offer was 70 months to 87 months, potentially 7 years in prison, which at Mr. Barnett's age would be a life sentence," wrote Gross.

Now, the government "ruthlessly" asks the court to impose the maximum sentence of 87 months, "a longer sentence than other January 6 defendants who committed actual violence, assault, and destruction," according to Gross.

"The Government cites irrelevancies such as the fact that Mr. Barnett believes that the election was stolen, that President Biden is beholden to China, or that police acted violently on January 6," wrote Gross. "Mr. Barnett is permitted to believe whatever he wants. The question before the Court is whether the few minutes of conduct deserve over seven years in prison -- what will surely be a life sentence for Mr. Barnett given his age and health. ...

"The worst accusations against Mr. Barnett amounted to 20 minutes of nonviolence in the Capitol, a stolen envelope, and literally seconds of verbal altercation with a police officer."

Gross wrote Barnett has no "significant criminal history."

In a footnote, he added, "Mr. Barnett has a completely clean criminal history without even a traffic ticket other than 3 DUIs in 1989, 1992, and 2002, respectively, but nothing else in the last 20 years. In the presentence report his total criminal history score is zero."

Gross' filing late Wednesday included nine letters of support for Barnett, including letters from his brother, daughter and two nieces.

"Richard loves his country," wrote his brother, John W. Barnett. "Richard is the furthest thing from a criminal or terrorist you will find. Richard is a pacifist and he has never physically hurt or harmed anyone. Richard has been active in his community, volunteering to help other people. ...

"Richard does not discriminate, and he loves everyone, regardless of race. My children are bi-racial (black/white) and Richard has loved them unconditionally. He is a great uncle to my children."

Print Headline: Give Barnett year or less in Jan. 6 riot, lawyer asks


Sponsor Content