An Alabama man who brought 11 Molotov cocktails and a truck loaded with multiple guns and ammunition near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 pleaded guilty to those crimes on Friday—following a brief snag when the judge questioned whether he appeared to waver over his intent.
Lonnie Leroy Coffman, 71, was in federal court Friday to plead guilty to possession of 11 Molotov cocktails, along with possession of an unregistered firearm. Police had found the handmade explosives, along with a cache of weapons, in Coffman’s pickup truck in the vicinity of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. when he was later arrested, police discovered that he was carrying an unregistered firearm.
Coffman, who originally faced 17 firearm charges, was among the first to be charged in connection with the events of Jan. 6, when scores of supporters of Donald Trump attempted to breach the Capitol building in an attempt to stop the Electoral College from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.
He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at his sentencing next year.
‘If You’re Not Agreeing To It, I’m Not Accepting It’
As U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly went through the elements of Coffman’s plea to make sure he understood the proceedings, the hearing skidded to a halt when Coffman said that the liquid in the jars wouldn’t have worked as an explosive device.
“The gas had been in the jars for over three years,” Coffman told Kollar-Kotelly. “It would not have served the purpose of gasoline in your vehicle, or anywhere else. It had deteriorated. Everything had evaporated. I don’t know exactly how they explained that.”
Coffman said that the gasoline had evaporated from the jars, rendering them useless for purposes of working as an explosive.
Kollar-Kotelly, a Bill Clinton appointee, said that Coffman’s belief that the Molotov cocktails would have exploded was essential to his guilty plea.
“If you’re not agreeing to it, I’m not accepting it,” she said, before allowing Coffman and his lawyer, Manuel Retureta, to speak privately.
When Coffman returned, he told Kollar-Kotelly that when he put the jars of gasoline, along with rags and lighters, in the back of his truck years ago, it was with the understanding that he could use them to make Molotov cocktails.
“But I did not plan any actions with those things,” Coffman said, referring to coming to Washington with the jars. “I didn’t put them in my truck at that time. They had been in my truck, the jars had been in my truck for some time, but I did not plan on blowing anything up, or nothing like that. They were in my truck but I was not going to use them.”
“I agree that they could have been used for that purpose, but I was not going to use them for that purpose,” he also said.
Kollar-Kotelly continued to parse Coffman’s intent with the gas-filled jars.
“When you put this together some years ago, you intended to be able, if you wanted to, to make this into a Molotov cocktail, is that correct?” she asked Coffman.
“Yes, Your Honor,” Coffman responded.
“Is it correct that here in D.C., if you wanted to, you could have also put those together and made a Molotov cocktail?” Kollar-Kotelly asked.
“Yes, Your Honor,” he said.
At that point, Kollar-Kotelly said she was convinced, and allowed the plea hearing to go forward.
‘Substantial Cache of Weaponry’
On the day of the riots at the U.S. Capitol building, police discovered the components to make the Molotov cocktails in the bed of Coffman’s pickup truck: rags, lighters, and eleven jars filled with gasoline, holes punched in the top.
Police also found a range of weapons in the truck, as Kollar-Kotelly had previously noted in a ruling confirming Coffman’s pretrial detention.
“Through their search of Mr. Coffman’s vehicle, the Capitol Police recovered a substantial cache of weaponry,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote in May. “Specifically, the investigating officers identified a loaded 9mm Hi-Point handgun; a loaded Windham Weaponry rifle; a loaded Hatfield Gun Company SAS shotgun; several large-capacity ammunition feeding devices loaded with more than ten rounds of ammunition; hundreds of rounds of ammunition; a crossbow with bolts; several machetes; camouflage smoke devices; and a stun gun.”
Coffman was not with his truck when police discovered it; police arrested him later as he was trying to get back to his vehicle. At that time, he was found carrying two loaded firearms.
Coffman’s truck was discovered as police were sweeping the area around the Capitol following reports of undetonated explosive devices found at the National Republican Club and Democratic National Committee Headquarters.
Coffman is not accused of planting those bombs.
As part of the guilty plea Friday, Coffman forfeited his claim on any of the weapons and supplies that he had with him in Washington, including everything police found in his truck.
Coffman was also arraigned on an Alabama charge of possessing Molotov cocktail components. The case was transferred to Kollar-Kotelly’s court.
According to the complaint, Coffman had Mason jars filled with flammable liquid along with rags and lighters, in his Alabama home. Coffman admitted that he had put those items together “a long time” before coming to Washington, and that he hadn’t registered them with federal authorities.
As a result of pleading guilty, Coffman said he understood that he could no longer own any firearms, and agreed that his son would take possession of his weapons in Alabama.
On Sept. 8, the government filed a request to change an upcoming hearing to a plea hearing, but details were not known before Friday’s hearing.
Coffman’s sentencing hearing is set for April 1, 2022.
[Images via U.S. Department of Justice.]
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