A married couple from Largo who admitted entering the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot was sentenced to jail time Friday.
Marilyn Fassell, 59, a nursing assistant who gained notoriety through a selfie she took while smoking a cigarette inside the building, was sentenced to 30 days and three years probation.
Her husband Thomas Fassell, 68, a retired postal worker and Air Force veteran, was sentenced to seven days and two years probation.
“There are lawful means available in a democracy to challenge actions you disagree with which don’t include a violent insurrection,” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said during the sentencing.
Prosecutors had requested 60 days of incarceration for Marilyn Fassell, stating in a recent filing that, “Fassell encouraged other rioters to proceed ... celebrated the fact that the rioters had overwhelmed police ... and showed no remorse when she spoke to the media following her arrest in September 2021.”
For Thomas Fassell, prosecutors requested 30 days incarceration, they said, because he went inside despite seeing overturned police barricades and smashed glass, breathing tear gas and hearing a blaring security alarm, and because he later tried to minimize his responsibility in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
Attorneys for both Fassells asked for probation instead, noting Marilyn Fassell’s sparse criminal record and Thomas Fassell’s lack of criminal record. They noted that neither participated in violence or destruction.
But during Friday’s sentencing hearing a federal prosecutor said Marilyn Fassell’s encouragement of rioters to push forward, and her cries to “go get” government officials such as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then-President-elect Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama, contributed to other rioters’ willingness to commit actual violence.
“Like many others, (Marilyn Fassell) let her strong feelings about the 2020 election and an ill-advised sense that 1st Amendment protections have no bounds take hold of her behavior that day,” Marilyn Fassell’s attorney wrote in a pre-sentencing memorandum. “It is regrettable that they did, because she is not a belligerent, much less violent, person. It would be apparent from her record if she were.”
“She’s actually a very caring person,” the attorney added in court Friday, pointing to Marilyn Fassell’s decades of work in health care.
The Fassells told the Times in 2021 they traveled to Washington, D.C., to protest what they believed was election fraud that led to Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.
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Thomas Fassell was recorded on video outside the Capitol telling his wife he wanted to leave, but ultimately they joined the mob that went inside and stayed there for 40 minutes.
The couple carried flagpoles, prosecutors said, and entered Pelosi’s office suite and the private hideaway office of Sen. Jeff Merkley.
In 2021, the Fassells said they believed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was a setup by antifa, a left-wing group of anti-fascist activists, and Pelosi.
Over the summer, Thomas Fassell pleaded guilty to parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. Marilyn Fassell pleaded guilty to disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building. Both are misdemeanors.
Marilyn Fassell was recorded on video from Jan. 6 saying, “We busted in the Capitol,” but later told the Times her arrest was “a joke, if you ask me.”
She and her husband claimed at the time they didn’t know entering the building was illegal because they were invited inside by a man they believed to be a Capitol police officer. Thomas Fassell also told the Times that he did not brag to friends about going inside the Capitol.
As part of their July 2022 plea agreements, Marilyn Fassell admitted in a court filing that she was aware the entry was illegal, and Thomas Fassell admitted he did brag to friends.
As a condition of her sentence, Marilyn Fassell was ordered to not possess any firearms while on probation. She’d previously unsuccessfully petitioned the court to allow her to carry a gun after receiving a death threat.