Woman's term reduced in faked racial attack Judge trims sentence after detainee's emotional plea

November 25, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Sonia James, the former North Laurel resident who faked a racial attack on her home for insurance money, could be freed from jail as much as three months early.

Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney reduced James' sentence from nine months to six months yesterday after she pleaded to be released.She said the four months she has served were sufficient punishment for a crime she will live with the rest of her life.

"I know I can't replace the trust that was betrayed to so many people," James told Sweeney. "I just hope that some day everyone will forgive me."

James, 30, asked Sweeney to let her out of jail immediately. Sweeney denied that request, and James walked out of the courtroom in handcuffs to serve the remaining two months of her sentence.

When Sweeney sentenced James in August, nine months was considered a tough sentence. It was well above state guidelines for the charges, which suggest a sentence ranging from probation to six months in jail.

In January, James pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft and one count of insurance fraud for ransacking her home in the Seasons apartment complex 10 months earlier. She admitted slashing her furniture, spray-painting racial slurs on the walls and flooding the home.

Yesterday, Sweeney reiterated that James' crime was serious. She planned the attack and even implicated other people before confessing to police, he said.

But he lowered the sentence after James vowed to begin work as soon as she is released to pay the more than $26,000 in restitution she owes two insurance companies and people who made donations.

Prosecutors opposed the sentence reduction. Assistant State's Attorney Sang Oh said the lengthy sentence was meant not only as punishment for James, but as a deterrent to others. Many people sent James money, food and clothing after hearing of the alleged crime. Police set up a substation in the area.

"We would urge the court to hold fast to its original sentence," Oh said.

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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