March 24, 2017 at 6:38 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Comet Pizza gunman pleads guilty

Edgar Maddison Welch, Comet Ping Pong, gay news, Washington Blade

Edgar Maddison Welch (Photo via Facebook)

A North Carolina man arrested in December for entering D.C.’s gay owned Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant with an assault rifle pleaded guilty in federal court on Friday to charges of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition and assault with a dangerous weapon.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office dropped a third charge against defendant Edgar Maddison Welch — possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence.

Welch, 28, told D.C. police he entered the restaurant on Dec. 4 armed with his rifle with the intent of breaking up a child sex ring that he learned was operating inside a hidden room at the restaurant from stories posted on the internet.

Police said he surrendered peacefully after firing three shots to break open the lock on an inside door at the restaurant and determined there were no signs of a child sex ring.

As part of a plea bargain agreement signed by Welch, prosecutors also agreed to recommend that Welch be sentenced to the middle range of non-binding sentencing guidelines that suggest 18 to 24 months in prison for the first charge and 18 to 60 months for the second charge.

U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is presiding over the case, is free to disregard sentencing guidelines. Under the criminal statutes linked to the two charges to which Welch pleaded guilty she could sentence Welch to no incarceration or to a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The plea agreement also calls for Welch to pay $5,744.33 in restitution to cover the cost for repairing damage he caused at Comet Ping Pong by firing his rifle inside the restaurant.

Jackson scheduled a sentencing hearing for June 22 and ordered that Welch remain held in jail pending sentencing.

Welch, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, replied “yes, ma’am,” repeatedly in response to questions by the judge about whether his decision to plead guilty was fully voluntary and not coerced and that he understood he was giving up his right to a trial by jury.

“The defendant was motivated, at least in part, by unfounded rumors about a child sex-trafficking ring that was being perpetrated at Comet and that involved nationally-known political figures,” said a statement filed by prosecutors in support of the guilty plea.

“The defendant had begun to focus on those rumors (known collectively as ‘Pizzagate’ rumors) on Dec. 1, 2016, principally by watching YouTube videos and reviewing related internet content,” the statement says. “The defendant then took it upon himself to act in what he believed would be a violent confrontation at the restaurant,” according to the statement.

“When he left home, the defendant carried with him, either on his person or otherwise in his car, three firearms and ammunition associated with each: (1) a 9mm AR-15 assault rifle loaded with approximately 29 rounds of ammunition; (2) a fully loaded 6-shot .38 caliber pistol; (3) a loaded twelve-gauge shotgun; and (4) a box of shotgun shells,” the statement says.

Acting D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham at the time of the incident denounced what he described as “fake news” that prompted Welch to drive from North Carolina to D.C. with firearms and ammunition that could have resulted in multiple deaths and injuries at a family restaurant.

Comet Ping Pong, which is owned by gay businessman James Alefantis, became the target of harassing phone calls and death threats after the fake stories linking it to a pedophile ring were posted last year on social media outlets.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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