Monday, March 20, 2023

A Sad Tale of Destructive Delusion


One of the best, most complete write-ups I've ever read of a courtroom drama. Thank you, Michael Gordon!

A North Carolina man, the second youngest defendant in more than 1,000 arrests linked to the deadly riot at U.S. Capitol, will spend the next three years of his early adulthood behind bars.

Aiden Bilyard of Cary was 18 when he sprayed chemical agents at police and broke out a window in the Capitol during the violent mob attack on Jan. 6, 2021, to keep Donald Trump in office. 

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton sentenced the now-21-year-old to 40 months in prison for assaulting police with a deadly or dangerous weapon. Bilyard, he said, had answered “the calls of a demagogue” and had taken up arms with “people prepared to destroy this country to get what they wanted. “... Age and immaturity are not an excuse for what occurred.” ...

The judge’s announcement drew a sob from the convicted felon’s mother, Amy Bilyard, who was seated in the Washington, D.C., courtroom. Walton warned her that she would have to leave if she could not control her emotions. “I know you’re upset,” Walton said. “Unfortunately your son did what he did. And as my mother always told me, ‘You make your bed, you have to lie in it.’ ” 

Bilyard pleaded guilty in October, part of a deal with federal prosecutors that led to the dismissal of eight other charges, including four felonies.

His Raleigh-based attorneys had asked the court for home detention instead of prison time. They argued that a young and impressionable teenager with no history of violence had succumbed to the “social media perversion of what it means to be a man.” Yet, they said, Bilyard had driven to Washington without weapons, protective gear or a plan to break the law. Once there, they said, he was sucked into it. “He acted like the immature, impulsive teenager that he was,” attorney Jamie Vavonese told the judge. “Every day he has worked to be a different and better person. His is a one-time mistake, the biggest mistake of his life. Yet the only mistake of his life.” ...

Bilyard, according to court documents, was part of a Raleigh-area group of teenage Trump supporters who drove to Washington two years ago to attend the losing president’s “Stop the Steal” rally near the Capitol. Photographs included in court documents show Christopher “Chriss” Carnell of Cary and David Worth Bowman of Raleigh on the floor of the U.S. Senate that day. Both were charged this month with obstruction of an official proceeding, a felony that carries up to an 8-year sentence, and multiple misdemeanors. Unlike Bilyard, neither is charged with an act of violence.

However, in an unexpected twist, Vavonese said her client made an intentional decision to drive alone to Washington on Jan. 6, because two of his friends, believed to be Carnell and Bowman, had talked in a text of bringing weapons. Court documents also show that Bilyard provided information to the FBI that led to Carnell’s and Bowman’s arrests.

Government attorneys had recommended Bilyard receive 47 months — on the low end of an agreed-upon sentencing range of 46 to 57 months. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Konig told the court that Bilyard “made a lot of mistakes on Jan. 6. But it’s fair to say he’s made a lot of good decisions since.”

“He admitted his conduct. He did not shy away from what he did, why he did it, or the wrongfulness of it, which sadly is not universal in these cases,” Konig said.

Bilyard has been held in a Virginia jail for the past five months under 22-hour lockdown. Given a chance to speak to the judge, he tearfully apologized to the police officers he may have injured, his mother, and for making “the most foolish decisions of my life.” “My promise to the court is that I will never make these mistakes again,” he said, adding that he was aware that Walton had heard such promises before. “Know that there is a real person with remorse behind these words,” he said. “Please have mercy.” Walton, a George W. Bush appointee, was not swayed, saying the seriousness of Bilyard’s crimes demanded more than home detention or a short prison stay.

The judge did agree to recommend that Bilyard serve his time in a North Carolina prison so he can be closer to his family. He closed his comments on a long, cautionary note. “It’s scary,” Walton said. “What happened on Jan. 6 is not something just in the past. It’s something that still haunts us. ... It goes to the roots of what we’re supposed to be as a democracy, and a democracy cannot survive if [people] attempt to subvert an election simply because they lost. “... It’s just very perplexing. People want to holler that they’re ‘patriots. They’re calling ‘USA, USA.’ That’s not the America I want to live in.”

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