Central Texas vineyard owner sentenced to prison in Jan. 6 insurrection

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 4:19 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WASHINGTON (KWTX) - Christopher Grider, the Central Texas vineyard owner who claims the government misinterpreted his intentions after he entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was sentenced to just less than seven years in prison Tuesday for his role in the unprecedented insurrection.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sentenced the 41-year-old Grider in Washington, D.C., to 83 months in federal prison. She also ordered him to make $5,044 in restitution for the damage he caused to the iconic building and to be placed on supervised release for three years following his release from prison.

Grider, who has three sons and a 3-week-old daughter, was seeking a prison term in the range of 18 months, while the government asked the judge to send him to prison for a term at the high end of the sentencing guidelines recommendation. He faced a maximum prison term of 39½ years.

Grider, whose wife and infant daughter attended Tuesday’s sentencing, requested that he be allowed to serve his time at the federal prison in Bastrop. The judge allowed him to remain free until July 18, when he was ordered to voluntarily surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons. The judge also ordered Grider to surrender the $800 he raised in a Go Fund Me account before it was closed.

Grider’s attorney, Brent Mayr, of Houston, said he expects to appeal the judge’s order, saying, “there were a number of close legal issues that require further review.”

“This is a sad day,” Mayr said, “Chris truly regrets his actions on January 6th and apologizes to his family, his community, and most importantly, this country. We respect the court’s consideration of all Chris did to try to make things right after January 6th, but we are disappointed that his sentence is significantly longer that others who did so much worse than him.”

Mayr stressed that Grider, “did not assault anyone, much less, threaten anyone with violence before, during or after that tragic day.”

In court pleadings, government prosecutors sought the higher sentence “in light of the severity of Grider’s conduct, his complete lack of remorse, his continued obstruction by lying repeatedly under oath at trial, and the need to deter Grider and others.”

Judge Kollar-Kotelly found Grider guilty after a trial in December on all counts against him, including civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property, remaining in a restricted building or grounds, engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, and act of physical violence in the Capitol grounds or building.

Christopher Grider, the Central Texas vineyard owner who claims the government misinterpreted...
Christopher Grider, the Central Texas vineyard owner who claims the government misinterpreted his intentions after he entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was sentenced to just less than seven years in prison Tuesday for his role in the unprecedented insurrection.(KWTX Collage)

Grider, owner of Kissing Tree Vineyards in Bruceville-Eddy, opened the trial Dec. 12 by pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts, entering and remaining in a restricted building or ground and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

At trial, Grider denied he entered the Capitol building with thousands of others with the intention of trying to halt the formal certification of President Joe Biden’s election. He claimed he and a friend traveled from Central Texas to Washington merely to show support for Trump. He said he got caught up in the political furor as the crowd marched to the Capitol and starting breaking in.

Mayr argued Grider did not break into the building, but walked through an open door.

Grider can be seen on Capitol surveillance video wearing a red “Make America Great cap” with a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag tied around his shoulders. He also was seen on video handing a hard hat to a man, who used it to break a window in a door to the Speaker’s Lobby.

Grider was standing a few feet away when a Capitol police officer shot and killed rioter Ashli Babbitt as she tried to climb through the window of the lobby door.

The judge, however, noted after the trial that Grider “was a leader, not a follower,” during the insurrection, in which more than 100 police officer were injured and resulted in more than $2.8 million in losses.

Government prosecutors noted that Grider was tear gassed by Capitol police before he entered the building through the Senate Wing door, less than two minutes after the Capitol was breached at that location. They alleged Grider also helped other rioters dismantle police barricades, including at least one that was used as a ladder.

“As Grider made his way up the stairway, he repeatedly turned around to beckon the mob forward,” according to presentence filings by the government. “Once on the Upper West Terrace, Grider picked up a discarded Capitol Police helmet…Once inside, Grider zeroed in on a utility pane, where he tried (unsuccessfully) to cut power to the Capitol building.”

Grider also urged others to “use your Kevlar” and to use their helmets to break out windows, prosecutors alleged.

Mayr countered, also in presentence motions, that government prosecutor mischaracterized Grider’s motives that day and said a sentence at the high range of the guidelines “quite frankly, would be tragic.”

Grider, a former Army National Guard police officer, had a “conflicted mind, a conflicted soul” Mayr wrote in a motion, saying Grider tried to help officers who were being pushed up against doors by the rushing crowd, but also felt “betrayed” when officers tear gassed him.

Despite that, “his good sense of mind at that point” led him not to strike back because, as Grider said, “it was not in my nature to do that.”

Mayr said Grider apologized to an officer for pushing against him and warned other rioters that the officer was going to get hurt.

“But after he was pushed beyond the officer and moved into a more open area of the building, as this Court also recognized, he shouted ‘Stop the Steal.’ So within a matter of minutes, he went from expressing concern for an officer to joining the mob in their calls to challenge the election results. More evidence of the back-and-forth in his mind,” Mayr’s motion states.

“…But his greatest regret of that entire, tragic day will be not listening to that inner voice that wanted to act in conformity with the law as he had for almost his entire life,” the motion says.

Mayr also informed the court that Grider’s National Guard service was cut short two years into his service after he developed a respiratory condition during a training exercise as he was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Grider testified at trial that he was drawn to candidates with “anti-war beliefs” and broke down in tears on the witness stand when asked if that is what led him to embrace then-candidate Donald Trump’s anti-war position.

“Obviously, Mr. Grider was deeply impacted by his experiences and feelings of betrayal by the leaders of our country,” Mayr’s motion said. “He was just the type of person a charlatan like Donald Trump could captivate.”

Mayr also asked the judge to consider that Grider’s life leading up to the Jan. 6 incident “was indeed troubling.” He was “drinking habitually and socially using marijuana,” while a psychological evaluation by the Veterans Administration earlier this year showed he has “very severe symptoms” of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, alcohol dependence and a provisional diagnosis of being on the schizophrenia spectrum and psychotic disorder.

“He is done with Donald Trump,” Mayr wrote. “He wants nothing further to do with the political process. He is ready to pay his debt to society so that he can return to his family, his church, his business and his community as quickly as possible. And he is ready to support and uphold American democracy.”