Copter pilot facing nine years in jail for landing on capitol lawn

Copter pilot facing nine years in jail for landing on capitol lawn

A man who piloted a gyrocopter through miles of America’s most restricted airspace before landing at the US Capitol will appear in court today, facing charges that carry up to nine and a half years in prison.

Douglas Hughes, 61, will appear in federal court in Washington on six charges, after being indicted by a grand jury.

Hughes said he would be making a statement after his appearance in court.

“We are looking at a case where there was no injury and no property damage, and the requirements as far as what the prosecution is asking for include years of jail time. The penalties that they are demanding are not consistent with the damage,” he said earlier.

Hughes, who took off from south-western Pennsylvania, was arrested on April 15 after he landed on the Capitol’s West Lawn. He has said his flight was intended to draw attention to the influence of big money in politics.

The stunt also led to a congressional hearing and exposed a gap in ensuring the safety of buildings in the city.

The charges Hughes now faces include two felonies – operating as an airman without an airman’s certificate and violating aircraft registration requirements - which carry a maximum of three years in prison.

He is also facing three misdemeanor offences of violating national defence airspace, each carrying a maximum of one year in prison.

The tail section of his gyrocopter carried a Postal Service logo and Hughes, of Ruskin, Florida, who had been working as a postman, also faces a misdemeanour charge of operating a vehicle falsely labelled as postal carrier. That charge carries a statutory maximum of six months in prison.

The charges Hughes faces also carry potential fines. The indictment says that if he is convicted of one or both of the felonies, prosecutors will ask that a judge order him to forfeit the gyrocopter.

During a court appearance the day after his arrest, Hughes was placed on home detention. He is not allowed to return to Washington except for court appearances and meetings with his lawyer and must stay away from the Capitol and the White House.

He is also barred from operating any aircraft.

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