7 people from Hampton Roads region have pleaded guilty to involvement in Jan. 6 Capitol breach

Capitol breach
Posted at 1:34 PM, Jun 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-09 18:10:27-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Seven people from the Hampton Roads region have now pleaded guilty for being involved with the Jan. 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol, according to federal court records.

On Thursday evening, the House of Representatives January 6th select committee will hold a prime-time hearing on their investigation into the 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Local Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-Va.) is a member of the committee and will be attending the hearing. The committee interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and reviewed more than 140,000 documents.

"This is the culmination of almost a year's worth of investigation," Luria told News 3 on Thursday afternoon. "People might have heard pieces here or there, but I think we're going to paint a full picture."

While issues like gas prices and inflation may currently be at the top of people's minds, Luria thinks it's still important to examine what happened.

"I would certainly say it happened a year and a half ago and it's probably not the first thing on people's minds, but it's really important that we get to the truth."

The committee will also make legislative proposals.

Luria, who's up for re-election this year, is now representing a district that experts say could be more favorable to Republicans thanks to redistricting. She says she knew that was a possibility going into this. "It's that important that if there were to be a political risk, if it were to mean that I don't get re-election because of this, I'll be able to sleep at night because I'll know I did the right thing," she said.

In January, News 3 reported on local people who face charges for their alleged involvement in the breach. At the time, three had pleaded guilty, but that number has risen to seven, court records show. Another person has also now been charged, raising the total to 13 from the region.

Cindy Fitchett, who was arrested in Suffolk, pleaded guilty in August to parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building. She was sentenced in November to one month of home detention and 36 months of probation.

Jacob Hiles, a fishing boat charter captain from Virginia, pleaded guilty in September to parading, demonstrating, or picketing a Capitol building. He was sentenced to two years of probation in December.

Prosecutors introduced a picture from Hiles' Facebook page showing him inside the Capitol as evidence.

Douglas Sweet, of Mathews, pleaded guilty in August to parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building. He was sentenced in November to 36 months probation with one month of home detention.

News 3 spoke with Sweet shortly after the riot in January 2021.

"Trump asked all the patriots to show up, so I did," he said.

Since early January, Kene Lazo, of Norfolk, pleaded guilty in March to parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building. He's set to be sentenced in July.

Prosecutors say Lazo posted pictures of him inside and outside of the Capitol.

Robert Packer, of Newport News, who prosecutors said was wearing a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt, has also now pleaded guilty and is due to be sentenced later this month. Prosecutors are seeking jail time in the case.

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Packer seen at the Capitol on Jan. 6

Investigators interviewed Packer after his plea and asked him why he wore the sweatshirt. He replied, "Because I was cold," according to court documents.

Brothers Eric and Paul Von Bernewitz, of Chesapeake, also have now pleaded guilty. Eric was sentenced to 24 months probation and 60 days of home confinement, while Paul was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Four local cases remain unsolved. One involves a father and two of his daughters. Willard Bostic and his daughter Meghan Rutledge were already facing charges, but in May another daughter, Karegan Bostic, was also charged. There is a status hearing in the case in August.

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Prosecutors say Rutledge posted about entering the U.S. Capitol on Facebook.

A woman named Melody Steele-Smith of Gloucester still has a pending case with a hearing set for July.

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The case against Ryan Suleski of Chesapeake is due to have a status conference in late June.

Prosecutors say Ryan Suleski entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Jonathan Mellis, who had been living in Williamsburg, faces several charges. One of the charges accused him of an Act of Physical Violence in the Capitol Grounds or Buildings. Prosecutors say he hit police officers with a stick. He was arrested in February 2021 and has been held without bond since then.

Photos provided in the U.S. District Court Criminal Complaint of Jonathan Mellis

A bond hearing is set for June 19. In a letter to the judge in May, Mellis said, "I love this country and I have immense respect for our system of government. I had no intention nor desire to see the events of January 6, 2021 unfold the way that they did."