An Alabama man who drove to Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021 in a pickup truck loaded with a small arsenal of molotov cocktails, guns, ammunition and other weapons — then wandered away from the truck and never used any of them before they were discovered — was sentenced Friday to 46 months in prison.
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 U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, and has been in jail since that day. His sentence 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,” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said. She began serving as a superior court judge in D.C. 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 D.C. 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 the coronavirus 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 D.C. with these destructive items in his possession?” No one replied.
Investigators only discovered the weapons in Coffman’s red GMC Sierra 1500 truck because he had parked it in the 400 block of First Street SW, in an area which had been roped off after pipe bombs were found on the morning of Jan. 6 outside the headquarters of both the Democratic and Republican parties. While U.S. Capitol Police officers were sweeping the area, they spotted a handgun on the passenger seat of the Sierra, prosecutors said. A subsequent search uncovered the rest of the weapons and the molotov cocktails.
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 in 1968. 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 D.C. 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 advisory federal 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 be 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 D.C. and Alabama. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Friedman stuck with the government recommendation of 41 months.
Kollar-Kotelly imposed 46 months, the high end of the agreed upon guideline range, and the low 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.”
No one replied.
Coffman was the 134th person sentenced in the Jan. 6 investigation, but only the 11th person sentenced for a felony. His 46-month term 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 jail or prison time in three of them.