Wife requests lighter sentence for Capitol riot suspect from South Jersey

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The wife of a South Jersey US Capitol suspect has pleaded clemency to a sentencing judge, saying the couple's world has been "turned upside down" by his arrest.
Wrightstown's Marisa Panayiotou also highlighted her own role in the arraignment of her husband Marcos, who is due to be sentenced on November 29.
"It was I who shared the video of Marcos walking through the Capitol and I admitted it to law enforcement," she wrote in a letter to US District Judge Dabney Friedrich in Washington, D.C.
"And it was my friends who contacted law enforcement to identify Marcos," she added.
Panayiotou was arrested in December at the couple's home on charges related to the January 6, 2021 riots by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
The wife's letter is part of a defense memorandum, which includes photos of the couple in front of a Christmas tree and posing with the defendant's mother at their wedding.
It calls for a three-year probationary period for Marcos Panayiotou, along with no more than 30 days of house arrest and 60 hours of community service.
But a federal prosecutor is calling for a "substantial prison sentence" for Panayiotou, a US Navy veteran who now works in swimming pool maintenance.
Panayiotou should receive a 45-day prison sentence plus a three-year suspended sentence, according to a memorandum from Deputy US Attorney Maria Fedor.
Panayiotou has agreed to pay a $500 rebate as part of a guilty plea to a federal misdemeanor.
The prosecutor's memorandum alleges that Panayiotou entered the Capitol about 10 minutes after breaking in and spent about 40 minutes inside the building.
"As if there weren't enough rioters swarming the Capitol that day, at one point Panayiotou climbed into a window frame to wave his fellow rioters off the grounds to enter the Capitol," it says.
The 36-page filing also claims Panayiotou "got rid of some conspicuous clothing he wore (during the riot) and deleted items from his cellphone."
Authorities said the former Marine sergeant wore a sweatshirt with the logo of his former military unit, a maintenance battalion based at Camp Pendleton in California.
He also wore a red hat that read "Make Politicians Afraid Again," according to the prosecutor's memorandum.
However, the defense noted that Panayiotou did not engage in violence or vandalism in the Capitol and did not post "inflammatory" comments on social media after the riot.
"Marcos Panayiotou did not purposely step in front of the crowd to force a door through, he just edged closer as the crowd deepened behind him," Assistant Federal Defense Attorney Carol Dominguez said in her sentencing note.
She says that although Panayiotou was aware he could have left the scene, he instead entered the Capitol with other rioters, "which he regrets as the biggest mistake of his life."
Fedor described several statements Panayiotou made to investigators after his request as "highly dubious". These included claims that he saw no violence, saw or heard flashbang grenades, and saw or smelled tear gas as he entered the Capitol.
But the defense memorandum claims: "Mr. Panayiotou may have been able to see it, but he didn't."
It also dismisses a prosecutor's claim that Panayiotou showed no remorse during an interview with FBI agents after his August hearing. Instead, Dominguez says, Panayiotou declined to raise the issue at her direction so that the public defender could address it in her memorandum.
"He's embarrassed and, frankly, was immediately after the day," Dominguez says. "He is ashamed of himself, his wife, this family, friends and brothers in the US Marines who he feels have lost faith in him."
And while prosecutors note that Panayiotou failed three tests for marijuana use in the months following his arrest, the defense says his sentence included treatment for substance abuse.
Prosecutors also allege Panayiotou's naval service from 2016-20 made his role in the riots "all the more troubling."
"His voluntary decision to storm a guarded government building is downright shocking given his previous military service and education," Fedor claims.
The prosecutor also notes that when he was arrested in December 2021, police found a partially loaded gun with a 17-round magazine next to Panayiotou's bed. This resulted in a conviction for disorderly conduct unrelated to the riot.
About 15 area residents have been charged in connection with the riot aimed at blocking President Joe Biden's election.
Panayiotou pleaded guilty in August to parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
He would be the third South Jersey resident to be convicted for his role in the Capitol riots.
Two men - Lawrence Stackhouse, 34, of Gloucester Township, and Robert Petrosh, 53, of Mays Landing - have been sentenced to prison as a result of sentences handed down earlier this year.
Jim Walsh is senior reporter for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal.
This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: Marcos Panayiotou is accused of prompting 2021 rioters to enter the US Capitol

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