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Jury convicts first rioter to enter Capitol building during Jan. 6 attack


The first rioter to enter the U.S. Capitol building during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack was convicted on Friday of charges that he interfered with police and obstructed Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's 2020 electoral victory.

Michael Sparks, 46, of Kentucky, jumped through a shattered window moments after another rioter smashed it with a stolen riot shield. Sparks then joined other rioters in chasing a police officer up flights of stairs, one of the most harrowing images from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.

A federal jury in Washington, D.C., convicted Sparks of all six charges that he faced, including two felonies. Sparks didn't testify at his weeklong trial. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is scheduled to sentence him on July 9.

Sparks was the “tip of the spear” and breached the Capitol building less than a minute before senators recessed to evacuate the chamber and escape from the mob, Justice Department prosecutor Emily Allen said during the trial's closing arguments.

“The defendant was ready for a civil war. Not just ready for a civil war. He wanted it,” Allen told jurors.

Defense attorney Scott Wendelsdorf conceded that Sparks is guilty of the four misdemeanor counts, including trespassing and disorderly conduct charges. But he urged the jury to acquit him of the felony charges — civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding.

Wendelsdorf accused prosecutors of trying to unfairly blame Sparks for the violence and destruction perpetrated by other rioters around him. The lawyer said Sparks immediately left the Capitol when he realized that Vice President Mike Pence wouldn't succumb to pressure from then-President Donald Trump to overturn Biden's victory.

“Michael Sparks may have started the game, according to the government, but he was out of the game on the sidelines before the first quarter was over,” the defense attorney told jurors.

Sparks traveled to Washington with a group of co-workers from an electronics and components plant in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. They attended Trump's “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House on Jan. 6.

After the rally, Sparks and a co-worker, Joseph Howe, joined a crowd in marching to the Capitol. A cameraman's video captured Howe saying, “We’re getting in that building,” before Sparks added that if Pence "does his job today, he does the right thing by the Constitution, Trump’s our president four more years.”

Sparks and Howe, both wearing tactical vests, made their way to the front of the mob as outnumbered police officers retreated.

“Michael Sparks was more prepared for battle than some of the police officers he encountered that day,” Allen said.

Sparks was the first rioter to enter the building after Dominic Pezzola, a member of the Proud Boys extremist group, used a police shield to break the window next to the Senate Wing Door. Other rioters yelled at Sparks not to enter the building.

“He jumped in anyway,” Allen said.

A police officer pepper sprayed Sparks in the face as he leaped through the broken window. Undeterred, Sparks joined other rioters in chasing Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman as he retreated up the stairs and found backup from other officers near the Senate chamber.

Sparks ignored commands to leave and yelled, “This is our America! This is our America!"

Sparks believed that he was defending the Constitution on Trump's behalf and that Pence had a duty to invalidate the election results, according to his attorney.

“His belief was wrong, but it was sincere,” Wendelsdorf said.

Allen said Sparks knew that he broke the law but wasn't remorseful.

“I’ll go again given the opportunity,” Sparks texted his mother a day after the riot.

Sparks and his co-workers returned to Kentucky on Jan. 7, 2021. By then, images of him storming the Capitol had spread online. On his way home, Sparks called the Metropolitan Police Department and offered to turn himself in, according to prosecutors. He was arrested a few days later.

Sparks and Howe were charged together in a November 2022 indictment. Howe pleaded guilty to assault and obstruction charges and was sentenced in October to four years and two months in prison. Top Stories

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