It was not what the victim in the case asked for, but it was the judge told Sean Christopher Mitten he, and the Berwyn community, deserve.
Mitten stood for nearly an hour cuffed at the wrists and ankles in front of Common Pleas Court Judge Phyllis Streitel in a sixth floor courtroom in West Chester Monday as he learned his fate for is role in the January attack that left Yong Yang blind in his left eye and changed Mr. Yang's life forever.
Judge Streitel says she had received far more detailed information about this defendant than most in the pre-sentence materials provided by the defense and the prosecution.
Mr. Yang's Request
Among the information the judge heard, but ultimately rejected, was a request from the victim himself. The prosecutor told the court Mr. Yang had requested that Mitten and co-defendant Ocatavio Sandoval (who will be sentenced on October 9) be given the shortest sentence possible but that they also be required to finish high school and get at least a G.E.D. certificate.
"Mr. Yang decided not to be present (in the courtroom) today. He wants to put this behind him and move on with his life," the Assistant District Attorney Carlos Bazzara told the court. "Mr. Yang's only concern was the future of Mr. Mitten and Mr. Sandoval... the only thing he said to me (about the attackers' sentences) was that he wanted the least amount of jail time and the most education (that the court could order)."
The Case for a Stiffer Sentence
The prosecutor went on to explain that Mr. Yang knew Sandoval, who had worked for him for a short time in Yang's Market. The commonwealth argued for a much harsher sentence than Mr. Yang requested or that the court ulitmately ordered. In pointing to the forgiving and gracious nature of Mr. Yang's request the prosecutor told the court "It just re-enforces that these are the types of people we have to protect from these people (like Mitten and Sandoval)."
The prosecuter pointed out that the attack was premediated, cold-blooded and well thought out. Mitten, who was 17 at the time but who turned 18 in April, and Sandoval picked their victim in advance and in fact had cased Yang's Market from the parking lot of Handel's Ice Cream across the street the day before the attack.
Mitten admitted that he and Sandoval had planned to jump Mr. Yang and that one of them would hold him down while the other took the day's cash receipts from his pocket. The two teen attackers ultimately took $508 from Yang.
During the attack Sandoval, armed with a knife, punched Mr. Yang in the face. It was a blow that has left Mr. Yang blind in his left eye.
Mitten and Sandoval then ran from the scene with the money and changed into new clothes that they had hidden along the AMTRAK and SEPTA rail lines nearby.
In asking for a sentence of 40-80 months for Mitten the prosecutor pointed out that attack was well thoughtout, planned, and pre-meditated. "This was not a spur of the moment case. They planned what they were going to do. They even took the extra step of planting a change of clothes."
"They focused on somebody who was elderly, they targeted on the most venerable members of the community)," the prosecutor told the judge.
The Defense Argument
Mitten's attorney started his presentation by agreeing with the prosecutor's argument for Mitten and Sandoval to pay restitution $30,185.65 to Blue Cross and Blue Shield for what the company has been billed so far for Mr. Yang's treatment. (Prosecutors say Mr. Yang's actual total medical bills are approaching $300,000).
The defense also agreed to supply a DNA sample and that Mitten would have no contact with Mr. Yang, with one important exception. Mitten requested that he be allowed to write a letter to Mr. Yang thanking him for asking for a lenient prison sentence and apologizing for the robbery and attack.
Mitten's attorney then turned to the issue of prison and probation time. He pointed out that Mitten came from a broken home, had never been in trouble before, but that after enering tenth grade and moving from his mother's home to his father's house in Phoenixville he started having trouble in school. "He has been making a series of bad choices since he was 15, " Green told the judge.
Mitten's attorney told the court that worst of those choices was befreinding co-defendant Octavio Sandoval. "He chose bad kids... he chose Sandoval." The defense then went on to point argue that Mitten was basically a lackey who was along for the ride on Sandoval's scheme. "It was Sandoval who needed money to buy marijuana because they were regular smokers and drinkers... they had a plan (to rob Mr Yang) but (Mitten) was as shocked as anyone when Sandoval hit him."
Mitten's attorney argued that Mitten never struck Mr. Yang and that Sandoval had said there was no plan to injure him and that Mitten didn't strike Mr. Yang. "I asked the court to recognize that what Sandoval did should not be applied to Mr. Mitten." Mitten's attorney also pointed out that he was 17 at the time of attack in January and that he still has the capacity to be a productive member of society. Mitten has reportedly developed an ambition to attend trade school while in Chester County Prison, where he's been held since his arrest in January.
The Judge's Ruling
The judge,as she had in several other criminal cases heard prior to Mitten Monday, pointed out that she had three things to consider in imposing a sentence:
- Protecting the community from danger
- The severity and extent of injuries done to the victim
- The chances of successfully rehabilitating and returning the offender to society.
On protecting the community: Judge Streitel told the shackled, sniffling Mitten that he was no innocent bystander duped into committing a crime by Sandoval. "I can't get over the fact of how rehearsed this was," the judge said. "If these were a couple of drug or alcohol fueled people on a spur of the moment (it would be one thing)." On the premeditation "they planned who was to do what. They left to clothes to defy being found," the judge pointed out.
On the impact on the victim: The judge was even more firm pointing out that the attack had a grave impact on Mr. Yang. "He lost his sight in his left eye, he lost his business, he lost his income," as direct result of the attack.
On Mitten returning to society: The judge described the defendant standing in front of her by saying "it appears that he is a softie in many ways. He's been good to people so Sean's problems seem to be one of not dealing with his facts of life. He hasn't dealt with his situations very well."
"This isn't about Sean's Problems"
The judge pointed out to the lawyers that the sentencing and hearing "is not about Sean's problem, it's about Sean's behavior."
Turning directly to the just-convicted 18-year-old Judge Streitel began by saying "so Sean at this point I'm not your guidance counselor... Mr. Mitten based upon all that I have gone over I believe that the appropriate sentence is what I'm about to impose."
After running down the sentence and conditions the judge told Mitten "you're going to get yourself beyond this, you're going to get yourself (turned around)."
Acknowledging Mr. Yang's compassion for Mitten and Sandoval and request that they get the most education they can the judge told Mitten "Mr. Yang is at the end of his life and you've made it a heck of a lot harder." Judge Streitel then told Mitten that he on the other hand is just at the beginning of his life so "you have an obligation" to Mr. Yang to turn yourself around.
Unlike Mitten who was 17 in January, Octavio Sandoval was 18 when he and Mitten committed their crimes. Mitten's age (he turned 18 while in prison in April) played into the plea deal and was mentioned as a potentially mitigating factor in the case.
Sandoval has already entered a guilty plea and will be sentenced by Judge Streitel on October 9.
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