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In year since Capitol riot, dozens charged around Missouri and Illinois

Three have pleaded guilty out of the six charged in the St. Louis area.

ST. LOUIS — A full year since rioters breached security at the United States Capitol building, participants from Missouri and Illinois are facing charges related to violent acts and destroyed property that took place inside.

In one of the largest federal investigations in US history, six local residents face charges of entering restricted grounds and disorderly conduct.

One of the first local people identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation from footage and photos of the Capitol building was Emily Hernandez, a 22-year-old from Sullivan, Missouri.

Investigators attached a photo in charging documents they say shows Hernandez holding a broken plaque for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Hernandez’s attorney, Ethan Corlija, spoke with PJ Randhawa this week about her case.

“Emily, unfortunately, was one of the more visible people that were present at the riot,” he said.

Corlija said Hernandez didn’t plan to attend the rally on January 6, 2021. He calls Hernandez a good person who got caught up in the mob.

“Emily came to be at the Capitol that day, I'm going to say, more or less by happenstance. She did not intend to go to the Capitol building that day. She didn't intend to really participate in any political rally at all,” said Corlija.

Corlija’s statements came before recent news that Hernandez is suspected of driving intoxicated in a fatal wrong-way crash in Franklin County the night before the anniversary of the Capitol riot.

RELATED: Sullivan woman charged in Capitol riot arrested for DUI after fatal crash

Hernandez’s federal case, which started with her arrest in January 2021, is ongoing. She faces charges of entering restricted grounds, disorderly conduct impeding government business, stealing, selling, conveying, or disposing of US property, disruptive conduct, and demonstrating in the Capitol buildings.

Federal investigators connected Hernandez with two other people charged in the Capitol riot: Hernandez’s uncle, William Merry, and Paul Westover.

Both Merry and Westover have pleaded guilty to some of their charges. Merry, who lives in St. Louis, will be sentenced in March after he pleaded guilty on the day before the anniversary of the Capitol riot. Westover, from Lake St. Louis, will be sentenced in February.

RELATED: St. Louis County man seen holding up sign in viral Jan. 6 video pleads guilty

In September, Nicholas Reimler pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Capitol riot and was sentenced in December to 36 months of probation, $500 restitution, and 60 hours of community service. Corlija also represents Reimler.

“If you asked him, he would certainly admit it went a little too far by going into the Capitol building,” said Corlija.

Also charged from the St. Louis region: Jonas Buxton of St. Charles, and Joshua Dressel of St. Louis. Their federal cases are ongoing.

RELATED: FBI: Surveillance video, tips, cell phone data led to Capitol riot charges against St. Charles man

In total, 18 Missourians and 17 Illinoisans have been charged for involvement in the Capitol riot in the year since it happened. The majority of Missouri arrestees come from Springfield.

One of the most recognizable faces of the riot is Jacob Chansley, known as the "Qanon Shaman." Arizona resident Chansley hired local attorney Al Watkins to defend him, until his guilty plea in November. After that, Chansley replaced his lawyer, presumably in advance of an appeal.

The daughter of Nancy Pelosi, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, is producing a documentary about the riot. Hernandez and Corlija agreed to be in it, Corlija said.

“The story that she wants to portray is going to be accurate. It's going to be one that truly shows what happened, and the level of responsibility for people like Emily, as opposed to others that were there,” said Corlija.