WASHINGTON (AP) — Not guilty.
That was the plea of a Tampa area man to the six charges he’s facing for flying a gyrocopter through some of America’s most restricted airspace before landing at the U.S. Capitol.
Douglas Hughes appeared Thursday in federal court in Washington.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced that a grand jury had indicted him on charges that carry up to 9½ years in prison.
Hughes, who took off from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was arrested April 15 after he landed on the Capitol’s West Lawn in his bare-bones aircraft. Hughes has said he wanted to call attention to the influence of big money in politics.
Hughes has been on home detention and can’t return to Washington except for court appearances and meetings with his attorney.
“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,” Hughes said in a phone interview Wednesday after the grand jury indictment became public.
The charges Hughes include two felonies: operating as an airman without an airman’s certificate and violating aircraft registration requirements. Those charges carry a maximum of three years in prison. He is also facing three misdemeanor offences of violating national defense airspace, each carrying a maximum of one year in prison.
Hughes, 61, who had been employed as a postal carrier and lives in Ruskin also faces a misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle falsely labeled as postal carrier. The tail section of Hughes’ gyrocopter carried a Postal Service logo. 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.
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