By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Two men will be sentenced on Friday for their roles in the pepper-spray assault of a U.S. Capitol police officer who died the day after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, whose family are asking the judge to impose the harshest possible penalty on his attackers.
Prosecutors are seeking a 7-1/2 year prison term for Julian Khater, 32, who deployed the pepper spray against Officer Brian Sicknick and two other police officers and pleaded guilty last year to two counts of assaulting police.
Sicknick died of a stroke the next day. Although the medical examiner, Francisco J. Diaz, later attributed his death to natural causes, he told the Washington Post he believed "all that transpired" on Jan. 6, 2021, played a role in his death.
Thousands of Donald Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol that day in an attempt to overturn his election loss.
George Tanios, 41, of Morgantown, West Virginia, pleaded guilty last year to lesser misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct on restricted grounds, and prosecutors are asking the judge to give him credit for time served in pre-trial detention. His lawyers have told the judge their client "deeply regrets" his actions.
Ahead of Friday's sentencing, Sicknick's family members submitted letters to U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, asking him to impose the harshest possible sentences.
"I don't know what kind of upbringing you had ... what might have happened in your childhood that contributed to your deluded sense of right and wrong," Sicknick's mother Gladys Sicknick wrote, addressing her son's attacker. "If I were your mother, I'd be embarrassed to have a son like you. I couldn't bear to look at you -- ever again. Which is how I feel right now. Let this be the last time, Mr. Khater."
In his letter, Brian Sicknick's brother Kenneth Sicknick refused to call both defendants by their names.
"Humans have names. Dogs have names. Pet rocks are given names. The two defendants are not worthy of having names or being addressed as such," he wrote.
Khater and Tanios are two of the more than 950 people who have been charged in connection with the assault on the Capitol. Four participants died during the chaos and five police officers, including Sicknick, died afterward, some by suicide.
Prosecutors have said Tanios drove from his home in West Virginia to pick Khater up in New Jersey before proceeding to Washington ahead of the riot.
After attending a rally, they joined the mob heading towards the Capitol, though there is no evidence they planned to enter the building or block the certification of electoral votes.
They arrived with two canisters of bear spray, which they did not use, and two containers of pepper-spray, one of which Khater did use.
In a video, Khater can be heard saying "Give me that bear shit" before reaching into Tanios' backpack.
"Office Sicknick's tragic demise, so close in time to the traumatic events of that day, underscores the seriousness of the offense committed by Khater," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo to the judge.
Khater's attorney is also asking the judge to impose a sentence of time served, noting his client has been locked up since his March 2021 arrest, has been subjected to "inhumane conditions," and already suffers from anxiety dating to his family's escape from Lebanon during the Israel-Hezbollah war.
"Whether it was simply the heat of that moment or the addition of some trauma which still lingered from having fled Lebanon while under bombardment, something in Julian was triggered," his attorney Chad Seigel wrote in his sentencing memo to the judge.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)
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