Members of the Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, were told they could face life in prison, according to a letter discussing plea deal negotiations obtained by The Epoch Times.
Nine members charged with conspiracy were told that a lack of recommended sentencing for the charge means the court would apply the sentencing guidelines for the most analogous charge.
"The United States takes the position that the most analogous offense to seditious conspiracy is 'treason,'" prosecutors said.
The charge of treason carries a potential death penalty, although prosecutors indicated the defendants would face a life sentence if they didn't plead guilty. That's despite the seditious conspiracy charge itself only carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The threat was contained in a letter that stated the government would stop negotiating plea deals on May 6.
None of the nine Oath Keepers pleaded guilty before the deadline.
The attempted link to treason "is absurd," Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law emeritus at Harvard Law School, and who is representing a Jan. 6 defendant who isn't an Oath Keeper, told The Epoch Times in an email.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia declined to comment.
The government could have trouble with its position, since it noted in a recent filing that the late Sen. Lyman Trumbull, the sponsor of the bill that first made seditious conspiracy a crime in 1861, said the bill's purpose was to “to punish persons who conspire together to commit offenses against the United States not analogous to treason.”
"The Conspiracies Act provided a middle option to address serious criminal conduct that did not rise to the level of a capital offense, including conspiracies to commit acts of treason, insurrection, or obstruction of government functions that failed to achieve their purpose," prosecutors added in their brief.
Jonathon Moseley, who has been representing Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs, but is on caretaker status due to his recent disbarment until his client secures new counsel, said that the letter was part of a series of actions by prosecutors that are designed to get defendants to accept plea deals, including quick production of evidence bolstering the cases against the defendants and lagging presentation of evidence that could exonerate them.
"It definitely seems like everything about the case here is to try to pressure people into pleading guilty," Moseley told The Epoch Times.
Meggs, facing seditious conspiracy and five other charges, would have considered agreeing to a deal, but only if the government dropped the more serious charges, as is typical in such agreements.
Lawyers for the eight other defendants either declined to comment or didn't respond to queries by press time.
Three other members of the Oath Keepers pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy before the deadline, although it isn't clear if any received the same or similar letters.
Overall, almost 800 people have been charged in the breach on the district or federal level. Approximately 248 have pleaded guilty to federal charges. Only a handful of trials have been completed. All defendants who have gone before juries have been convicted on all charges; those who went before judges received split or full acquittals.