Edgar Maddison Welch, the North Carolina man who pleaded guilty to firing an assault weapon in a Washington, D.C., pizza shop to investigate an internet conspiracy theory that the restaurant was being used by former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman to operate a child sex trafficking ring, has been sentenced to four years in prison, HuffPost reported Thursday.
Prosecutors argued that a tough sentence would “deter other would-be vigilantes” who might be motivated by “the next internet-inspired conspiracy theory,” and initially aimed for a four-and-a-half-year prison term. They said Welch “traumatized the employees and customers” of Comet Ping Pong, and that “his crimes affected an entire community, leaving many people feeling threatened.”
U.S. District Judge Ketanji Jackson told Welch on Thursday that she was worried “other people will see what you have done and be inspired by it.” She said Welch’s case “is no ordinary assault case” and that a sentence at the upper end of the sentencing guidelines was necessary.
“I have never heard anything like the conduct that brings us here today,” she said. “The extent of the recklessness in this case is breathtaking.”
Welch “surrendered peacefully when he found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant,” according to court documents.
Welch pleaded guilty in March.
In an apology letter, Welch said that he “came to D.C. with the intent of helping people” and that he never intended to do any harm.
“It was never my intention to harm or frighten innocent lives, but I realize now just how foolish and reckless my decision was,” he wrote in a letter included in a sentencing memorandum.
Dani Jahn, an attorney representing Welch, said it was “very hard to tell what the future is going to hold for Mr. Welch.”