Saying she got “caught up” in an event that will forever be a “blight” on American history, a federal judge nonetheless cut a Shaler woman a break on Thursday for breaching the U.S. Capitol in support of Donald Trump’s lies and gave her probation instead of jail.
U.S. District Judge John Bates, presiding in Washington, D.C., gave Melanie Lanham a term of 18 months, along with 50 hours of community service and a $500 restitution order.
The judge said he hopes Lanham, a home organizer and mother of three, will take the time to reflect on what she did. He said the Trump mob was engaged in “assaulting our democratic values” and that she was a part of it, regardless of her motives.
“That mob doesn’t exist without the people that make up the mob,” he said.
But in the end, he said her misdemeanor crime did not warrant a prison term.
Prosecutors had asked for 30 days behind bars, arguing that she penetrated deeply into the Capitol building, claimed she was desperately looking for a bathroom yet took time to post a goofy selfie and has shown no remorse.
She and her lawyer argued that she didn’t hurt anyone, didn’t break anything, didn’t fight with any cops — and really did have to pee.
Lanham, 43, pleaded guilty last year to parading in a Capitol building, admitting that she entered the building with Jordan Bonenberger, a young Marine reservist from Cranberry whose case is pending.
The pair drove together to D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, for the Trump rally and then entered the Capitol together, where they were captured on video among the mob.
Lanham went inside, walked around and took pictures of herself for 13 minutes.
Although she had maintained that police let rioters in, prosecutors said she could see mayhem all around her and obviously knew she should not go inside. With alarms blaring, she could see police using tear gas, watched attackers climbing scaffolding and observed a rioter expelling a fire extinguisher at officers.
Despite witnessing all of that, she still entered through the Upper West Side doors with other rioters after police retreated from that area, then walked to a third floor hallway next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.
Lanham told the FBI that she and Bonenberger became separated in the crowd and that he had contacted her to say people were being let into the Capitol. She said that when she arrived, police were guarding the door and the crowd was being respectful of the police. She said she didn’t go in then because it appeared she wasn’t allowed but said when police later left, she went inside and reunited with Bonenberger.
Lanham told agents she had walked so deeply into the Capitol because she had to pee, but the government noted that she took the time to pose for a selfie outside Pelosi’s door “with her tongue sticking out.”
Prosecutors also described her activity on social media after the riot in which she lambasted the “msm” — mainstream media — for lying about what happened, described the Trump mob as peaceful and said the whole event was “amazing.”
In court, she told the judge that she got swept up in events but had no intention of rioting.
“You’re in the crowd, you’re like a sardine and you’re pushed into a direction,” she said. “I was afraid of getting trampled.”
She also said she did not know at the time how chaotic and violent the riot really was.
“When you’re in that moment you don’t realize what’s going on,” she said. “I probably shouldn’t have gone in the first place.”
The judge said he didn’t think Lanham, unlike many other rioters, really was intent on overturning the election and noted that she didn’t smash any doors or windows to get in. Instead, he said, she walked around for a while and left. He also said her post-riot online postings did not seem to be “celebratory,” as those of many others have been.
The judge ordered that Lanham’s supervision be served under the direction of the U.S. probation office in Pittsburgh.
The case against Bonenberger is pending.