By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The man who carried out a pepper-spray attack on a U.S. Capitol Police officer who died the day after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot was sentenced to 80 months in prison on Friday with credit for time already served in pretrial detention.
Julian Khater, 32, who admitted in a guilty plea he had used the pepper spray against Officer Brian Sicknick and at least two other officers, told U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan the rash actions he took that day were not in his nature, and he wishes he could take them back.
“I’ve taken every chance I possibly could to better myself as a person,” said Khater, who appeared in court clad in an orange jumpsuit.
“What happened on Jan. 6 – there are no words for it … I wish I could take it back.”
George Tanios, 41, of Morgantown, West Virginia, who traveled to Washington with Khater and supplied the chemical agent Khater used, was sentenced at the same hearing on Friday to time served, after he pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct on restricted grounds.
Khater was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine, while Tanios was ordered to serve 100 hours of community service and to use whatever is left of his online legal defense fund to pay a fine.
Sicknick, 42, died of a stroke the day after the Jan. 6 riot. Although the medical examiner, Francisco J. Diaz, later attributed his death to natural causes, he told the Washington Post he believed “all that transpired” on Jan. 6, 2021, played a role in his death.
Dozens of uniformed and plain-clothed Capitol Police officers attended the jam-packed sentencing hearing on Friday, which spanned more than four hours. One of the people in attendance left small packets of tissues for police officers to use during the emotionally-charged hearing.
Five of Sicknick’s relatives and Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was also a victim of Khater’s pepper spray attack, addressed the court.
“You attacked my son like he was an animal,” said Brian Sicknick’s mother Gladys Sicknick, who wore an oversized long-sleeve shirt that she said belonged to her son. “You are the animal, Mr. Khater.”
Edwards, who received the Presidential Citizens Medal earlier this year for her bravery during the Capitol attack, tearfully told the judge she suffers from “survivor’s guilt” over her colleague’s death.
“I felt like the worst kind of officer,” she said. “Someone who didn’t help their friend – couldn’t help their friend.”
Thousands of Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol that day in an attempt to overturn his election loss.
Khater and Tanios are two of the more than 950 people who have been charged in connection with the assault on the Capitol. Four participants died during the chaos and five police officers, including Sicknick, died afterward, some by suicide.
Prosecutors said Tanios had driven from his home in West Virginia to pick Khater up in New Jersey before proceeding to Washington.
After attending a rally, they joined the mob heading towards the Capitol, though there is no evidence they planned to enter the building or block the certification of electoral votes.
They arrived with two canisters of bear spray, which they did not use, and two containers of pepper-spray, one of which Khater did use.
Video shows Khater spraying Sicknick, Edwards and a third officer from the Metropolitan Police Department.
Khater’s attorney said his client suffers from a history of anxiety dating back to his family’s escape from Lebanon during the Israel-Hezbollah war, and he said his client’s actions did not reflect the “quiet” and “introverted” person that he truly is.
But prosecutors accused Khater of launching a “premeditated” attack on police, and they played several videos of Khater slowly advancing towards a barricade that separated rioters from police.
Hogan said he could not sentence Khater over Sicknick’s death because there was no basis to do so in the coroner’s report. However, he said he was distressed by Khater’s behavior.
“I can’t find a basis for accepting an assault with a dangerous weapon on a police officer,” he said.
“It makes no sense to me.”
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez and Eric Beech; Editing by Scott Malone, Daniel Wallis and Rosalba O’Brien)