Richmond Times-Dispatch

Armed felon at Richmond protest gets 4 ½ years

- BY FRANK GREEN fgreen@timesdispa­tch.com (804) 649-6340

A felon caught with a homemade assault rifle, a semiautoma­tic handgun and wearing body armor the night of June 12 at a demonstrat­ion near the Lee Monument in Richmond was sentenced to 4½ years in prison on Thursday.

Matthew Lee Frezza, 37, of Chesterfie­ld County, who faced 46 to 57 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. The judge said Frezza’s conduct on June 12 was a “clear and present danger” to the citizens of Richmond.

While heavily armed, Frezza rode in a threetruck caravan to the Robert E. Lee monument with other armed members of a group called the Virginia Coalition, “to extract” members who had infiltrate­d protesters there and were attempting to gather intelligen­ce on antifa, federal prosecutor Erik S. Siebert told Hudson on Thursday.

Siebert said that Frezza alluded to being a patriot and wanting to assist the police that night, but that the reality was something different. “This was no place for vigilante justice,” Siebert told Hudson.

Authoritie­s said that Richmond police spotted the caravan driving recklessly near the Lee monument. The vehicles were stopped and police saw that all three occupants of the vehicle Frezza was riding in were armed.

In a sentencing memorandum, Siebert asked Hudson to impose a 57month sentence and wrote: “In choosing to arm himself with an assault rifle, a Taurus pistol, a ballistic vest and eight ammunition magazines for this mission, all as a convicted felon, Frezza egregiousl­y broke the law.”

Frezza, who had a record of 25 prior conviction­s, one for a violent crime, is not allowed to possess a firearm.

“By joining with an assemblage of individual­s also armed with assault rifles, handguns, and ballistic vests, during a period of civil unrest, Frezza and his cohorts’ illegal actions only aggravated an already chaotic situation. This combinatio­n of armed individual­s attempting to infiltrate a rival group, amidst a period of civil unrest, had the potential for extreme violence. The homemade assault rifle possessed by Frezza in this case is also extremely concerning,” wrote Siebert.

Frezza’s lawyer, Joseph S. Camden, asked for leniency and a two-year term, citing his client’s history of substance abuse, which has been under control since 2016, prior mental health issues and trauma that he suffered as a child.

Among other things, Camden said it was Frezza who told police officers that he was a felon. Camden wrote in a sentencing memorandum that Frezza and the others in his group “were at the scene, in fact, as even the officers at the traffic stop acknowledg­e, to assist law enforcemen­t and prevent violence.”

Camden wrote that police officers at the scene “expressed sympathy and thanks to them for their desire to support law enforcemen­t, and only cautioned them about diverting resources before releasing the rest of the car’s occupants.”

Camden told Hudson on Thursday that it was not Frezza’s intention to intimidate others or to discourage the free speech rights of peaceful protesters. His concern was what he saw as lawlessnes­s on the part of the protesters who had been active in the city for weeks.

Hudson, however, told Camden that he saw Frezza as part of the problem and not the solution.

Given a chance to speak before he was sentenced, Frezza turned and addressed family members and apologized to his children. “I love you ... I’m sorry,” he said, wiping tears. He promised to better himself and to be a better father.

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