St. Louis, MO – A Missouri lawmaker is among many calling for the governor to pardon a man who was sentenced to eight years for burglarizing and starting a fire in a gas station convenience store during a riot.
"There were no grounds for this harsh of a sentence, especially when his actions inflicted no damage or harm whatsoever," Missouri State Representative Bruce Franks Jr. said in a statement.
Joshua Williams, then 19, was caught on video stealing items from a QuikTrip convenience store after looters shattered its glass doors, according to the Associated Press in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Video showed Williams then used lighter fluid to set a fire at the Mobil gas station during the riots that followed the officer-involved shooting of 18-year-old Antonio Martin in Berkeley in December of 2014.
Williams had already been arrested at least twice in Ferguson four months earlier during the protests there for refusing to disperse and unlawful assembly, KMOV reported.
He was an outspoken and visible protester during the riots that followed the August of 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and appeared on television news at protests and community meetings regularly, almost always wearing a red hooded sweatshirt bearing the words “All American Gymnastics.”
KTVI reported that it was that sweatshirt that made Williams so easy to identify in the video of the fire being set at the gas station convenience store on Dec. 24, 2014.
In November of 2015, Williams pleaded guilty to arson, burglary, and stealing for the incident at the QuikTrip in Berkeley, according to KMOV.
He was sentenced to eight years by a St. Louis County circuit court judge, The Kansas City Star reported.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a 15-year sentence, and Williams’ attorneys had asked for a suspended sentence, according to The Kansas City Star.
Franks called Williams’ eight-year sentence overly “harsh,” according to the Associated Press.
He said Williams had no prior convictions when he started the fire during the Berkeley riot, and that other rioters who were convicted of similar crimes during protests had gotten more lenient sentences.