WASHINGTON (AP) — One of three active-duty Marines who stormed the U.S. Capitol together was sentenced on Monday to probation and 279 hours of community service — one hour for every Marine who was killed or wounded fighting in the Civil War.
U.S. District Judge Ana Reyes said she can’t fathom why Dodge Hellonen violated his oath to protect the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic” — and risked his career — by joining the Jan. 6, 2021, riot that disrupted Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.
“I really urge you to think about why it happened so you can address it and ensure it never happens again,” Reyes said.
Dodge Hellonen, now 24, was the first of the three Marines to be punished for participating in the Capitol siege. Reyes also is scheduled to sentence co-defendants Micah Coomer on Tuesday and Joshua Abate on Wednesday.
The three Marines — friends from the same unit — drove together from a military post in Virginia to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, when then-President Donald Trump spoke at his “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House. They joined the crowd that stormed the Capitol after Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell.”
Before imposing Hellonen’s sentence, Reyes described how Marines fought and died in some of the fiercest battles in American history. She recited the number of casualties from some of the bloodiest wars.
Prosecutors recommended short terms of incarceration — 30 days for Coomer and 21 days for Hellonen and Abate — along with 60 hours of community service.
A prosecutor wrote in a court filing that their military service, while laudable, makes their conduct “all the more troubling.”
Reyes said she agreed with prosecutors that Hellonen’s status as an active-duty Marine does not weigh in favor of a more lenient sentence. But she ultimately decided to spare him from a prison term, sentencing him to four years of probation.
Reyes said it “carried a great deal of weight” to learn that Hellonen maintained a positive attitude and stellar work ethic when he was effectively demoted after the Jan. 6 attack. He went from working as a signals analyst to a job that few Marines want, inventorying military gear.
“The only person who can give you a second chance is yourself,” she told him.
“I take full responsibility for my actions and I’ll carry this with me for the rest of my life,” Hellonen told the judge.
Hellonen, Coomer and Abate pleaded guilty earlier this year to parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months behind bars. Hundreds of Capitol rioters have pleaded guilty to the same charge, which is akin to trespassing.
Hellonen was carrying a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag when they entered the Capitol through a door that other rioters had breached about seven minutes earlier.
After walking to the Rotunda, they placed a red “Make America Great Again” hat on a statute and took photos of it. They remained inside the Capitol for nearly an hour, joining other rioters in chanting “Stop the Steal!” and “Four More Years!”
None of them is accused of engaging in any violence or destruction on Jan. 6. But prosecutors said none of them has expressed sincere remorse for their crimes.
Coomer bragged on social media about taking part in “history,” called for a “fresh start” and said he was “waiting for the boogaloo,” a slang term for a second civil war in the U.S.
Coomer’s statement that he was “hoping for a second civil war to topple what he viewed as a ‘corrupt’ government was deeply ominous, given that his military training and access to military weapons would make him a particularly effective participant in such a war against the government,” the prosecutor wrote.
More than 600 people have been sentenced for Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Over 100 of them have served in the U.S. military, according to an Associated Press review of court records. Only a few were active-duty military or law enforcement personnel on Jan. 6.
On Jan. 18, 2023, law enforcement officers arrested Coomer at a military office in Oceanside, California; Abate at his home in Fort Meade, Maryland; and Hellonen at his residence in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
As of Friday, all three Marines were still on active-duty status, according to the Marine Corps. But all three could be separated from the Marine Corps “on less than honorable conditions,” prosecutors said.
Hellonen received separation paperwork in July, while Coomer awaited a decision last Friday on his possible separation, according to prosecutors. They said Abate was still enlisted in the Marine Corps as of Sept. 1.
“Under other circumstances, that service would be incredibly laudable,” a prosecutor, Madison Mumma, told the judge. “At best, it shouldn’t be credited at all.”
Hellonen, a Michigan native, was stationed at the military base in Quantico, Virginia, on Jan. 6. He worked at the Marine Corps Information Operations Center as a signals intelligence analyst and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in August 2021, said his attorney, Halerie Costello.
Hellonen moved to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in February 2022 and was waiting to be deployed when he was arrested, according to Costello. Hellonen knows he shouldn’t have entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, Costello wrote in a sentencing memo.
Associated Press reporter Lolita Baldor contributed from Washington.