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NE Kansas women become first residents in state to plead guilty in Capitol riot case

·5 min read

Two northeast Kansas women on Tuesday became the first residents in the state to plead guilty to federal charges related to the Capitol insurrection.

Jennifer Ruth Parks, 61, and Esther Schwemmer, 55, each entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one misdemeanor charge of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

“Did you in fact do what the government has said that it can prove at trial?” U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols asked Parks at her hearing.

“Yes, your honor,” she replied. Minutes later, she paused to regain her composure when the judge asked if she had any questions before deciding whether to plead guilty. Her voice broke as she said, “No, your honor.”

At Schwemmer’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich asked, “Are you pleading guilty, Miss Schwemmer, because you are in fact guilty?”

“Yes, your honor,” she replied, her voice shaking.

“Your honor, I think she hasn’t even had a parking ticket, so this is a difficult time for her,” Schwemmer’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, told the judge.

Parks’ sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 8, and Schwemmer’s for Dec. 21. They face a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. The women also must pay $500 in restitution for damage to the Capitol building. Prosecutors have said repairs to the building totaled about $1.5 million.

Both women initially were charged with four misdemeanors. The others were entering and remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building; and violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building. The government dropped the other charges as part of their plea agreements.

The cases of six other Kansas residents — including three Proud Boys from Johnson County — are winding their way through the court system. Fourteen Missouri residents also face charges related to the Capitol breach. A St. Louis County man pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge on Sept. 17, and a Springfield couple each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor on Monday. The three are scheduled to be sentenced in December.

Court records said the FBI received a tip on Jan. 11 saying Parks, a friend of Schwemmer’s, had participated in the “DC mob.” The tipster shared a screenshot of a text message between Parks’ daughter and another person, court documents said, in which Parks’ daughter wrote: “So depressed over all of the cheating in the election right now. Mom and her friend went to Washington for the March. Wish I could have gone too. Lol.”

The records said Parks’ daughter then wrote: “We should all be climbing over those walls. They pushed us too far.”

Property records and other documents indicate the two women are from Leavenworth. The FBI interviewed both Parks and Schwemmer on Jan. 17, according to the court documents. Parks said she had attended the pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6.

“Parks believed she was attending a peaceful rally in support of President Donald Trump,” the court records said. The friends told the FBI that they entered the Capitol building for “thirty minutes to one hour” after the doors were broken.

The charging document said Parks entered the Capitol Building through the front lower door with no stairs, then “proceeded up a round staircase to the second floor and observed groups of people praying and singing.”

Parks sang the National Anthem with a group on the second floor, the document said. She told agents she tried to leave the Capitol building through the front door and was instructed by a police officer not to exit there, according to the document. She said another officer told her to leave down a hallway, and she exited the building at that time.

Schwemmer told authorities that she and Parks were eating while they watched people running toward the Capitol building, according to the court document. The two followed the crowd to another area outside the building, Schwemmer said, and she climbed a tree to take a photo of a man wearing a colonial jacket with a walkie-talkie. She provided the photo to authorities, the document said.

While outside the Capitol, Schwemmer said, she heard people in the crowd suggest going to the front of the Capitol building “to conduct peaceful protesting.”

“Schwemmer claimed that she and Parks walked to the front of the Capitol Building, encountered no barricades and no police officer told them to stop,” the court document said. “Schwemmer saw the open doors to the U.S. Capitol Building and entered with Parks. They entered the building through the lower door in the front and went straight to the ‘roundabout’ area.”

The building was “messy and smelled bad,” Schwemmer told the agents, so the women went upstairs, according to the document. There, she said, she saw a woman being released from handcuffs and escorted out of the building. She said police were allowing them to walk around, but that as soon as a police officer told them to leave, they did.

Schwemmer gave agents a photo of her and Parks taken outside the Capitol building, court records showed. In the photo, she was wrapped in a “Trump 2020” flag and wore a Make America Great Again beanie hat.

Parks and Schwemmer were arrested on April 23 and released on their own recognizance pending resolution of their cases.

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