Army combat veteran and ex-Shaler history teacher Robert Morss says he was sexually abused in jail pending trial for assaulting cops during the Capitol insurrection and should get no more than 24 months at sentencing Wednesday instead of the nine years federal prosecutors are asking.

Morss, 29, also says others who fought with police that day got far less than the 109 months that the Justice Department is recommending and maintains that the government has incorrectly calculated his potential sentence.

“This case has already turned Morss’ life upside down,” said his lawyer, Nicholas Smith, in a sentencing memo this week. “The government’s suggestion that these heavy blows are insufficient to deter the one-time, situational crimes Morss committed is nonsense.”

The feds don’t think it’s nonsense. The sentencing range is 97 to 121 months. They want Judge Trevor McFadden to give him a term in between in part because, as a veteran, he chose to attack the Capitol and “turned his back” on his duty to serve his country as he did in the war in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors said Morss engaged in “sustained violent and obstructive conduct” against police and hasn’t shown any remorse.

But Smith countered that his client is indeed sorry for what he did and will say so at the sentencing.

Beyond that, he said Morss has already served “hard time.” The FBI arrested Morss in June 2021, and he’s been in custody for nearly two years. Part of that period was spent in a local jail in D.C., where he says he was repeatedly strip-searched for no cause, maced while handcuffed and sexually abused by a guard during a search in a “particularly obscene manner.”

Smith said such abuses are a disgrace to the criminal justice system and warrant a downward departure in sentencing.

He also said the government is relying on a “flawed” conviction for robbery to calculate the sentence. Morss was convicted at trial of robbery in wrestling a police shield from an officer, along with assaulting police and obstruction of an official proceeding.

Smith said the robbery charge only applies to offenses committed within the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.” The District of Columbia, he argued, is not in that category.

He said even if a different federal robbery charge had been applied, it still might not be valid because the shield belonged to a Metropolitan Police Department officer and not a federal agent or the Capitol Police, so it’s not federal property.

Smith said prosecutors have also improperly added offense levels for interference with the “administration of justice,” arguing that Congress does not administer justice.

In addition, Smith presented a list of other violent rioters and their sentences, all of whom received much lower sentences than 109 months.

Smith said his client got caught up in the moment at the Capitol but is an honorable man who fought for his country and hoped to be a school teacher.

Morss grew up in Reno, Nev., and enlisted in the Army in 2011 at 18. He joined the elite Rangers and served three combat tours in Afghanistan with the 2nd Ranger Battalion. He was honorably discharged in 2015 and enrolled at Penn State, where he earned his B.A. in 2020. He always wanted to be a teacher, his lawyer said, and he moved to Pittsburgh to teach history as a substitute in the Shaler district from January 2021 until the FBI arrested him.

Smith said Morss is a first-time offender who did not “whip up” the crowd during the riot and had no preconceived plan to enter the Capitol.

“Like hundreds of others in the area, he engaged in criminal conduct in an unprecedented scene of chaos,” Smith said. “Morss has no history of seeking out and inflaming riots or political extremism.”

Prosecutors have noted, however, that during the rioting Morss wore camo pants and a tactical vest filled with armored plates weighing more than 20 pounds, along with a knife sheath, scissors and goggles. A few weeks later, he wrote a note to himself on his phone outlining what he would eventually say to a judge, contending that he had no regrets.

Morss is one of about two dozen people from Western Pennsylvania charged in the insurrection. The total number is well over 1,000 and grows each week as the FBI continues arresting people across the country.

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at

Torsten Ove

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at