A Pennsylvania man who had pleaded guilty to multiple charges in connection with the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol reportedly died by suicide weeks before he was scheduled to be sentenced.
Matthew Perna, 37, entered the Capitol after the doors had already been breached by riotous Donald Trump supporters who overran police and swarmed the building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden‘s win in the 2020 presidential election.
According to prosecutors, Perna stayed in the building for about 20 minutes in the Senate Wing Lobby. He was seen on video chanting with the crowd. Although he initially claimed that he didn’t intend to enter the building and was pushed inside by the crowd, he later posted an eight-minute video to Facebook describing the actions he and two of his friends took that day.
“Steve and I we walked right into the Capitol building,” he said on the video, according to the complaint.
He later added: “It’s not over, trust me.”
Perna also made multiple Facebook posts indicating that he was a QAnon adherent.
He was charged alongside co-defendant Stephen Michael Ayres, who said that police had “escorted” them from one end of the Capitol building to the other. Ayres had also previously tried to blame the riots on “Antifa.” According to court records, Ayres’ case is still pending.
Perna pleaded guilty in December all four charges against him. Unlike hundreds of other Jan. 6 defendants who struck deals with prosecutors to plead guilty to one or more charges in exchange for other charges being dropped, Perna pleaded guilty to the indictment itself, without a plea deal.
According to an obituary, Perna died Friday “of a broken heart.”
The obituary did not identify a cause of death, but the pro-Trump website American Greatness reported that Perna hanged himself.
“His community (which he loved), his country, and the justice system killed his spirit and his zest for life,” the obituary said, putting the blame for Perna’s death squarely on federal prosecutors.
The obituary described Perna as someone who loved music, traveled often, and took care of animals.
The obituary also insisted that Perna’s presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was peaceful and claimed that he was unfairly targeted.
“He attended the rally on January 6, 2021 to peacefully stand up for his beliefs. After learning that the FBI was looking for him, he immediately turned himself in. He entered the Capitol through a previously opened door (he did not break in as was reported) where he was ushered in by police. He didn’t break, touch, or steal anything. He did not harm anyone, as he stayed within the velvet ropes taking pictures. For this act he has been persecuted by many members of his community, friends, relatives, and people who had never met him. Many people were quietly supportive, and Matt was truly grateful for them. The constant delays in hearings, and postponements dragged out for over a year. Because of this, Matt’s heart broke and his spirit died, and many people are responsible for the pain he endured. Matt did not have a hateful bone in his body. He embraced people of all races, income brackets, and beliefs, never once berating anyone for having different views.”
Prosecutors had filed a motion on Feb. 11 to delay the sentencing from its scheduled date of March 3 while the government conducted an “internal review” in an attempt to “ensure that similarly situated January 6 defendants are treated in the same manner.”
Perna didn’t oppose this request, according to the filing.
The most serious charge to which Perna had pleaded guilty was a federal obstruction charge that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, though he likely would have received a far lighter sentence. So far, three Jan. 6 defendants have pleaded guilty to this charge, and all have been sentenced to prison: Paul Hodgkins to 8 months, and Scott Fairlamb and Jacob Chansley, also known as the “QAnon Shaman,” to 41 months each.
Perna was also charged with three misdemeanors, including disorderly conduct and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds.
Perna was scheduled to appear for sentencing before Senior U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, a George W. Bush appointee, on April 1. Neither the Justice Department nor Perna’s counsel immediately responded to Law&Crime’s request for comment, seeking to confirm the reports.
[Image via FBI court filings.]
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