Gracyn Courtright of Hurricane became the first West Virginian to plead guilty to a charge related to storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“What is your plea?” asked U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper of the D.C. Circuit.
“I plead guilty,” Courtright responded, her voice cracking.
Courtright pleaded guilty to one federal misdemeanor, “Knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without unlawful authority,” in exchange for dropping three other misdemeanors.
She faces anywhere from no jail time to six months and could also be subject to supervised release of one year.
Courtright now has a sentencing hearing 10 a.m. Nov. 16. Until then, the U.S. Probation Office will prepare a comprehensive report and make a recommendation to the judge about what penalties would be appropriate.
Federal prosecutors laid out the accusations against Courtright, saying she was captured on video entering the Capitol over broken glass about 2:42 p.m. Jan. 6.
One video, federal prosecutor Rachel Fletcher said, showed Courtright inside the building with a crowd chanting “U.S.A.” Another video, Fletcher said, showed Courtright among a line of people facing law enforcement officers, with the crowd chanting “Who’s house? Our house!”
Finally, Courtright was caught on camera while carrying a U.S. Senate “Members Only” sign until it was taken away by an officer. Then she left the building at 3:06 p.m., prosecutors said.
“The defendant knew at the time she entered the Capitol building that she did not have permission to enter,” Fletcher said.
Courtright has been among about 500 people charged in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots. Of the thousands of protesters in Washington, D.C., that day, about 800 went into the Capitol, police have said. Only a few have pleaded guilty so far.
The mob storming the U.S. Capitol disrupted the constitutional duty of counting Electoral College votes and prompted the evacuations of representatives, senators and Vice President Mike Pence. One woman was fatally shot while trying to climb into the chambers, three others died from “medical emergencies” and more than 100 police officers were injured.
Several West Virginians face charges from that day’s events. They include George Tanios, a Morgantown sandwich shop operator accused in the assault of three Capitol police officers with pepperspray, former state Delegate Derrick Evans of Wayne County, who resigned after being charged, former Parkersburg Councilman Eric Barber, also accused of surging into the Capitol and college senior Courtright of Hurricane.
By pleading guilty, Courtright gives up some of her rights, including that of a jury trial. But she also expedites the process in a court system that has been bogged down by hundreds of cases along with continuing precautions because of the covid-19 pandemic.
Courtright today said she had withdrawn from University of Kentucky, where she had been studying mathematical engineering, shortly after the Jan. 6 events. She told the judge she has a hearing in December before a college board but has been waiting to clarify her status in the federal court system before proceeding academically.
Courtright appeared nervous and emotional at today’s hearing, which was conducted remotely via livestream.
That stood in contrast with some of her social media posts from the time. In one selfie, Courtright had said on Instagram, “Infamy is just as good as fame. Either way I end up more known. XOXO.”
At the beginning of today’s hearing, Courtright wept as she told the judge her name.
“You a little nervous? Take your time,” Judge Cooper said.
“Yes, I’m just shaky. I’m sorry,” Courtright responded.
The judge made some conversation with Courtright, intended to gather her background but also possibly to calm her down.
He asked if she was involved in extracurricular activities. Courtright said no, but alluded to waitressing jobs including at a taco shop and a chain Italian-style restaurant.
The judge then alluded to the University of Kentucky’s reputation as a basketball powerhouse by asking if Courtright is a fan.
“I guess I like WVU more, but yeah,” Courtright responded.
The judge noted the recent extension of WVU basketball Coach Bob Huggins’ contract. “Are you a fan?” the judge asked.
“Yes,” Courtright responded.
The judge moved on to making sure Courtright understood that her guilty plea meant she would be giving up a jury trial. “Do you understand that?”
Courtright said yes, and indicated she wants to go ahead.