A D.C. Superior Court judge on Monday took the unusual step of rescinding a decision to lower what critics called an already lenient sentence for a woman convicted of committing an aggravated assault while armed that a jury designated as an anti-gay hate crime.
Judge Yvonne Williams, responding to objections by prosecutors, issued an order vacating an earlier order of July 15 that lowered the sentence for lesbian Christina Lucas, 22, from one year to six months in prison.
Williams also announced in her Aug. 3 order that she has recused herself “from all further proceedings in this case” related to Christina Lucas’s sentencing and ordered that the case be reassigned to another judge for a final decision on the sentence.
She made it clear in her Aug. 3 order that her decision to raise the sentence back to one year in jail was not based on the merits of the case. Instead, she said it was based on procedural grounds raised by prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a motion filed last week accusing her of acting improperly by lowering the sentence after the official sentencing hearing on June 29 ended.
At the June 29 hearing, prosecutors asked for a 15-year prison sentence, noting that Christina Lucas slashed the face of a 29-year-old gay male victim after she and her twin brother, Christopher Lucas, along with others knocked him to the ground and repeatedly stomped on him while calling him anti-gay names.
Witnesses at the trial testified that Christina Lucas slashed the victim’s face just below his eye with a sharp object while he was lying on the ground on a Northwest Washington street during the October 2013 attack, leaving him with a permanent facial scar.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Veronica Jennings, argued that the blows to the victim’s body and head were so severe that it was only due to pure luck that he survived the attack.
“As the government properly points out in its motion, the Court incorrectly amended a portion of the defendant’s sentence outside the presence of the parties and without notice to the victim,” Williams states in her order.
“The Court therefore will vacate the Judgment and Commitment Order [the sentence] entered on July 15, 2015, and will enter a Judgment and Commitment Order consistent with the sentence announced before the parties and the victim on June 29, 2015,” Williams states in her Aug. 3 order.
A Superior Court jury on May 8 of this year convicted both Christina and Christopher Lucas of aggravated assault while armed with a hate crime designation following a two-week joint trial. At the June 29 sentencing hearing prosecutors asked for a 15-year sentence for both.
Williams sentenced the two at that hearing to four years in jail and suspended all but one year for each of them. She also sentenced them to five years of supervised probation upon their release, saying they would likely be sent back to jail if they violate the terms of their probation.
The judge startled prosecutors and courtroom observers at the July 15 hearing when she disclosed that she had changed her mind and lowered Christina Lucas’s sentence to six months incarceration on June 29 about 20 minutes after prosecutors, defense attorneys and apparently the court’s stenographer left the courtroom.
She created an uproar among some LGBT activists when she explained at the July 15 hearing that she handed down what some viewed as a lenient sentence in the Lucas case because she questioned whether the incident was a true hate crime and didn’t think the injuries suffered by the victim were serious enough to warrant a 15-year sentence proposed by prosecutors.
Noting that Christina Lucas is an out lesbian, Williams said she questioned whether one gay person can commit a hate crime against another gay person. She said she similarly questions whether a black person who hurls the “N” word while assaulting another black person can be considered to have committed a hate crime.
Citing this rationale, Williams said she did not believe the hate crime aspect of the Lucas case reached the level of seriousness that called for an enhanced prison sentence that the D.C. hate crimes law gives judges the option of using.
Concerning the extent of the victim’s injuries, Williams said, “There were no long-term injuries. There were no broken bones…or disfigurements…he’s obviously not in a wheelchair,” she said of the victim.
In its July 29 motion challenging William’s decision to lower Christina Lucas’s sentence, prosecutor Jennings, an assistant U.S. Attorney, pointed out there was no reference to the sentencing change in the official court transcript of the June 29 hearing.
“[T]he United States respectfully submits that the Court’s re-sentencing of defendant Christina Lucas following the initial sentencing proceeding was improper and in violation of D.C. Superior Court Rule 35 (‘Rule 35’) and the District of Columbia Crime Victim’s Rights Act…and because it was conducted outside the presence of the public,” Jennings states in the government’s motion.
The motion notes that Rule 35 allows judges to change a sentence but requires that they do so in open court in the presence of defendants, prosecutors and defense attorneys. The Crime Victims’ Rights Act requires that victims be present during any sentencing proceeding, Jennings states in the government’s motion.
In her Aug. 3 order rescinding the reduced sentence, Williams says Christina Lucas through her attorney is opposing any action that raises her sentence back to one year. Williams suggested a final decision on the matter would have to be made at another hearing and by another judge.
“Accordingly, it is in this the 3rd day of August, 2015, ORDERED that the Government’s Motion is GRANTED; it further is ORDERED that the Clerk of the Criminal Division shall reassign this case,” Williams declares in her order.