Neither Lonnie Leroy Coffman, 72, nor his lawyer offered any explanation of why he brought the Mason jars filled with gasoline and Styrofoam, which explosives experts said would have had an effect similar to napalm if ignited, to the District. He is thought to be the most heavily armed defendant yet identified among the defendants in cases related to the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, and he has been in jail since that day. His sentence dele is one of the longest yet imposed in the Capitol attack investigation.
“I don’t think I’ve seen in all my years as a judge, quite such a collection of weapons,” US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said. She began serving as a superior court judge in DC in 1984, and was elevated to the federal bench in Washington in 1997.
In addition to the gas-filled Mason jars, with holes poked in the lids and rags and lighters nearby, investigators found a 9mm handgun, a rifle, a shotgun, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, large-capacity ammunition feeding devices, a crossbow with bolts, machetes, and camouflage smoke devices. Coffman was also carrying two handguns when he was arrested. All the guns were loaded.
Coffman pleaded guilty in November to possession of unregistered weapons, namely the molotov cocktails, in both DC and Alabama, where investigators found another 12 Mason jars filled with gas and Styrofoam. Coffman said at his plea hearing that he thought the gas was too old to be explosive.
Coffman had previously been linked with a Texas-based militia that staged an “armed citizen camp” aimed at enforcing immigration laws, prosecutors said. And he traveled to Washington on Dec. 11, 2020, court records show, where he approached the Washington home and office of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) weeks earlier to discuss “election fraud.” He had notes in his truck with phone numbers of the Texas militia members, and supposed contact information for Cruz and conservative commentators Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
“I wish that I had stayed home,” Coffman tearfully told the judge Friday in a remote video hookup from jail. He said he had contracted covid-19 during his stay in jail and needed shoulder replacement surgery. In a handwritten letter to the judge, he said he traveled to the Capitol “to try and discover just how true and secure was the election on November 3rd, 2020.” Coffman wrote that when he realized it was unrealistic to expect any answers that day: “I walked around the outskirts of the event briefly, then left and started back to where my vehicle was parked.”
But after hearing from Coffman and his lawyer, Kollar-Kotelly said, “The key unanswered question for me, which probably won’t be able to be answered, is what was the purpose of driving all the way from Alabama to DC with these destructive items in his possession?” No one replied.
Court records show Coffman was photographed near the Capitol in the morning, but then was unable to reach his truck and met a woman who also couldn’t reach her vehicle. The two of them took the Metro to Pentagon City in Virginia and had pizza, warmed up, and returned to the District that afternoon. The woman retrieved her car, then drove Coffman to his truck, which was surrounded by police. He identified himself, and was arrested.
Coffman served in the military on two tours in the Vietnam War, the judge noted, pointing out that he lied about his age to enlist while underage in1968. She said his experience in Vietnam would have made him familiar with the effects of napalm. He worked as a machine operator in Alabama for 29 years before retiring in 2012. He did not enter the Capitol during the riot, the judge noted, and had no prior criminal record.
But the judge, who previously ordered Coffman held in jail until trial, noted the need to deter others “who would consider coming to DC to do this, around residences and government buildings.” She said she struggled with “just punishment.”
In the plea agreement, prosecutors and Coffman’s lawyers agreed that the federal advisory sentencing guidelines called for a range of 37 to 46 months in prison. The government recommended a sentence in the middle of that range, or about 41 months. Coffman’s lawyer, Manuel J. Retureta, suggested that Coffman was released after the nearly 14 months he has already served.
But the federal probation office calculated the guidelines range at 46 to 57 months, because of the combined total of weapons Coffman had in both DC and Alabama. Assistant US Attorney Michael J. Friedman stuck with the government recommendation for 41 months.
Kollar-Kotelly 46 months, the high end of the agreed upon guideline range, and the end of what she said was the more accurate calculation by the probation office.
“Mr. Coffman,” the judge said, “I’m hopeful, I’m sure that I won’t see you again in court. I think you’ve learned your lesson. I still don’t have an answer to the question that I asked you before.”
Coffman was the 132nd person sentenced in the Jan. 6 investigation, but only the 11th person sentenced for a felony. His 46-month term dele is the third-longest among the sentencings, exceeded only by sentences of 63 and 51 months for men who admitted assaulting police officers that day. It was Kollar-Kotelly’s fourth sentencing in the Jan. 6 cases, and she has imposed them jail or prison time in three of them.