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U.S. v. BLAKE

United States District Court, Eastern District of New York


March 15, 2000

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
V.
SUMMER BLAKE, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Weinstein, Senior District Judge. I. Introducton The defendant tried to rob a bank. In the course of her botched attempt she stabbed a teller causing severe permanent physical and psychological injury. Having pleaded guilty, she must now be sentenced. Sentencing is a serious and difficult task raising such issues as the role of punishment as just dessert, deterrence, rehabilitation, and victims' rights. There is no dispute that the defendant committed a dreadful crime resulting in a debilitating injury to an innocent victim. At the same time, the bizarre facts of the crime, the background of the criminal, and her behavior and rehabilitation following her arrest suggest that this case should not be mechanically decided through rigid application of the federal Sentencing Guidelines. Three real and vulnerable people are directly affected — the victim, the defendant, and the defendant's daughter. Indirectly involved are defendant's extended family and community, the persons who were present in the bank and terrorized by the crime, and the larger public interested in deterrence of future crimes and public safety. Departure from the Guidelines is required in order to take appropriate account of the needs of all those concerned. II. Facts A. Crime On June 22, 1998, Summer Blake, a diminutive, comely African-American woman, was 21 years old. She parked her car near a Chase Manhattan Bank in Brooklyn. Entering a nearby building, she walked to the third floor and changed her clothes in a stairwell where she left them. Her new outfit consisted of a pink wig, white sweatshirt, painted blue jeans, and work boots. The would-be robber attempted to hide behind a garbage dumpster from where she appeared to be looking into the bank's window. Not surprisingly, she was observed by several witnesses. At one point, she ran up the handicapped entrance to the bank and then returned to the dumpster. Shortly thereafter, she entered the bank and yelled, "This is a stickup." She was brandishing what appeared to be a gun and ordered everyone to the front of the bank. Sheron Nauzo, an assistant manager at Chase, was seated at her desk with a customer when Blake approached her with the gun-like object and a knife. After Ms. Nauzo assumed a position on the floor, the defendant ordered her to unlock the vault. When she fumbled for her keys, a co-worker unlocked the vault, entered it, and attempted to close the door behind her, leaving Ms. Nauzo and Blake on the other side. At this point, Blake became agitated and struck at Ms. Nauzo with a knife. Ms. Nauzo was stabbed in the left hand as she attempted to ward off the blow, suffering permanent tendon and nerve damage. The defendant proceeded behind the teller counter and yelled, "Where's the money?" She then grabbed several rolls of coins and ran from the bank. Witnesses observed her leaving the bank and running in the direction of the building where she had secreted her clothing. They also saw coins falling out of a bag she was carrying. Members of the civilian Williamsburg Safety Patrol followed Blake to the building and kept it under surveillance until officers from the New York City Police Department arrived. She was located by police in the basement and arrested. When she was discovered, she had stripped down to her underwear. Her clothes and the knife were recovered under the stairwell. The police also recovered the "gun" she had used, which was a toy. No money was recovered from Blake, but $29.75 in coins was found in a lot adjacent to the building. In a post-arrest statement, Blake admitted her role in the robbery. She stated that she committed it by herself and that no one was aware of her intentions. Defendant was charged with the crimes of bank robbery (18 U.S.C. § 2113 (a)) and assaulting a person or putting his or her life in jeopardy during the commission of the robbery (18 U.S.C. § 2113 (d)). She pleaded guilty to both crimes. B. Guidelines Blake does not challenge the Sentencing Guidelines calculation of a total offense level of 29 and a criminal history category of I, calculated as follows: The base offense level for the robbery is 20. See U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(b)(1). She received enhancement of two points because property of a financial institution was taken (§ 2B3.1(b)(1)), of four points because a dangerous weapon was used (§ 2B3.1(b)(2)(D)), and of six points because Ms. Nauzo suffered permanent bodily injury (§ 2B3.1(b)(3)(C)). Her offense level was reduced by three points because of her acceptance of responsibility (§ 3e1.1 (a), (b)). These computations resulted in a total offense level of 29. Based upon a criminal history category of I (no prior offenses), the Guideline's sentencing range is no less than 87 months and no more than 108 months. She would receive credit of approximately one month for the period she was incarcerated awaiting release on bail and in custody for a psychiatric examination at a government institution. C. Defendant's Background In determining a sentence, it is worth attempting to understand (as best one can) what set a defendant upon her illegal course. While it does not excuse her conduct, Blake's difficult background and misplaced-even sick-reliance on men critical to her life provide a useful context. Defendant was born in 1977 to the consensual union of Dennis James Corley and Carrie Lee Blake in Brooklyn, New York. The parents lived together until Blake was four; since then they have remained friends. The mother has allowed Blake's father to reside at her home when he needed a place to stay. At times Blake maintained some relationship with her father, but she went through extended periods of rare or no contact. Both parents have a history of drug abuse. Her father apparently still uses narcotics. Beginning at the age of four, Blake would find her mother's drug paraphernalia around the house. When the defendant was five, her mother began a romantic relationship with a woman who also abused drugs. This relationship ended in 1998; Blake's mother and her former companion remain friends. Blake's mother always held a job and financially supported the defendant. Since her mother stopped taking drugs in 1992, she has tried to guide defendant. She encouraged the defendant to pursue acting and modeling careers. Her mother, father, other relatives, friends, and a member of the cloth have supported defendant by attending her various appearances in court and in encouraging her rehabilitation attempts. In October of 1996, when defendant was nineteen, she gave birth to a daughter. Blake's relationship with her child's father ended when she was four months pregnant. At that time, defendant contends that he tried to rape her. He physically assaulted defendant's mother who obtained a restraining order. Blake believes that her former lover is currently institutionalized for mental health reasons although she does not know where he is. Blake's daughter — a pretty and vivacious three year old — lives with defendant and her mother. She is financially supported by them and appears to be a well cared for, intelligent, and happy child. In April 1997, Blake began a relationship with one Richard Williams that led directly to the crime in question. In August 1997, the defendant began cohabitating with Williams. Physical violence against, and domination of, defendant was endemic. During this period, the defendant lost focus in school and eventually withdrew. After returning once, she quit again. Prior to her arrest, she had completed one semester at Long Island University where she studied accounting. Her paramour complained that Blake's studies were preventing her from spending sufficient time with him. They fought daily. He continued to beat her. Even though Blake paid the rent for their apartment, only Williams' name was on the lease. When the defendant threatened to call the police to complain of physical abuse, he told her that she would be thrown out of their abode. By December 1997 Blake had exhausted her savings and was wholly dependent upon her mother for financial support. In January 1998 defendant's uncle moved into the apartment and ordered Williams to leave. Williams continued to call, telling Blake that he missed her. They resumed the relationship. Eventually the uncle moved out of the apartment. In March 1998 Blake returned with her daughter to her mother's home. She continued, however, to see Williams; his abuse continued. Williams' financial reliance on Blake also grew. He insisted that she give him $1,800 to obtain his motorcycle which had remained in a repair shop for a year. In June 1998 Blake, in an attempt to escape from Williams, slept in a neighborhood park. Williams later found defendant at a hotel. He ranted that it was her fault that his motorcycle remained in the shop. The robbery occurred two days after Williams' renewed importuning. The crime's goal was to obtain money to pay for the motorcycle. Even after her arrest, Blake continued to speak with Williams. She maintained contact with him until December 1998. D. Psychiatric Profile Shortly after her arrest, Blake was released on bond. As part of the bail conditions, she was placed on home detention and was required to receive a psychiatric evaluation. Early indications of Blake's psychiatric problems predate the incident. Blake contends that she had previously experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression following a 1997 automobile accident when she was a passenger in a car driven by Williams. She was treated by a psychologist who found her to be "seriously depressed" and recommended psychotherapy. After three visits she terminated treatment. There were two suicide attempts. One was at age 12 or 13. The other occurred after her arrest when she tried to choke herself with her handcuffs. Following her release from jail, Blake was interviewed three times by Dr. Alexandra Bardey, a psychiatrist, in July 1998. Her conclusions were that at the time she committed the crime, Blake suffered from major depression and mixed personality traits with borderline and dependent features. The latter condition is "characterized by fear of abandonment, chaotic relationships, and feelings of emotional emptiness, especially when unattached." As part of this condition, the doctor found that Blake tends to rely on others and is passive and submissive. Moreover, she will go, the doctor opined, to great lengths to maintain a dependent relationship. These traits have, the doctor found, made her prone to being abused. Blake was also examined in July 1998 by Dr. N.G. Berrill, a psychiatrist, of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavior Science. His conclusions mirror those of Dr. Bardey. He found that Blake suffers from major depression and personality disorder with borderline features. His recommendation was that Blake be treated on an individual basis as well as in group therapy. Blake followed Dr. Berrill's advise. She has been in counseling for more than a year and a half. She has attended all of her individual sessions and is an active participant in group therapy. In addition, defendant has received intense spiritual guidance from Reverend Cheryl G. Anthony of the Judah International Christian Center. Reverend Anthony is one of the many individuals who wrote or appeared in this court on behalf of the defendant. Before proceeding to sentence, the court ordered defendant to undergo another mental health evaluation. In June 1999 she was sent to the Federal Medical Center (fmc) in Carswell, Texas. The conclusions of the Fmc were in line with the earlier analyses. Its report noted that Blake "appears to have been experiencing a significant depressive episode prior to, and at the time of, her arrest." It diagnosed a dependent personality disorder. The report concluded that defendant was suffering from a mental illness at the time of the instant offense that "prohibit[ed] Ms. Blake from understanding the nature and wrongfulness of her crime." The court disagreed with the suggestion that defendant might have been not guilty by reason of insanity. Based on an allocution before the magistrate judge as well as its own observations and evaluations of the record and without objection by counsel, the court accepted defendant's plea of guilty. E. Victim Sharon Nauzo, the victim of this crime, suffered serious and permanent damage to her hand caused by Blake's knife. In March 1999, she submitted a powerful victim impact statement recounting the incident and her subsequent medical problems. The letter is worth quoting at length. Ms. Nauzo first described the incident as follows: My staff and I complied with all [Blake's] shouted commands, but apparently we were not taking her to the money fast enough — and that is when she attacked me with the knife twice. She was aiming for my chest — in the region of my heart — but, thank God, I had the presence of mind to protect my life, so, instead, my left hand was stabbed twice, In fact, she coldly said that she would keep stabbing me until the "f____g door was open." (emphasis in original). She went on to explain her physical and mental injuries: Ms. Blake did severe damage to my left hand, as a result of which I have not been able to return back to work as yet. I had to have a five-hour operation to repair the damage she did to the nerves and tendons in my hand. It's now nine months later, and the feeling still has not fully returned to my thumb, index and middle finger. Neither can I bend the index or thumb fingers fully. The web space between the index and the thumb has shrunken considerably, making it very difficult for me to pick up things, and I have to look forward to the prospect of another operation to correct these problems. . . . I am forced to wear a splint 24 hours a day. . . . I had to learn to use my left hand all over again, and I still have lots of difficulty lifting weights, holding and picking up objects, combing my hair, washing my back, using a computer — just to name a few things. As bad as the physical damage was — the psychological traumas that I suffered and am still suffering were far worse. For the first week after the incident I could not eat nor sleep properly. I kept having panic and anxiety attacks when I closed my eyes. I had nightmares, flashbacks — the works. I have had to seek psychological counseling to deal with the trauma of the attack and am presently still being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. My sense of self in the world, as well as a healthy sense of safety in the world, has been drastically altered. I have lost my faith and trust in strangers and my innocence. Sometimes I have difficulty concentrating and experience lots of anger and frustration — hence my inability to return to the world of branch bank . . . [T]his was a job I did and loved for 16 years with no problems. At the end of her letter, Ms. Nauzo made a stiff sentencing recommendation: I am requesting that Ms. Summer Blake be sentenced to the maximum penalty available under the law for the crime that she has committed. Her action not only affected me; it also affected my husband, my mother, my father, my family and my friends. The staff members who witnessed the attack were also traumatized by it. Please take into consideration the fact that my left hand is permanently damaged as a direct result of her actions and that psychologically I will never be the same, or view people in the world the same way anymore. I have suffered greatly as a result of her actions: emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially; and I am still suffering with no end in sight. I sincerely hope that the punishment will fit the crime. A second letter, discussed below, was sent by Ms. Nauzo after the first sentencing hearing. See infra Section II.G. F. First Sentencing Hearing Blake moved for a downward departure from the Guideline's imprisonment range of 87 to 108 months. She argued that: (i) she suffered from a significantly diminished capacity at the time of the offense (u.s.s.g. § 5k2.13), (ii) the offense was an aberrant act (id. at ch. 1, pt. A, 4(d)), and (iii) her daughter would suffer great emotional trauma if defendant were incarcerated (United States v. Galante, 111 F.3d 1029 (2d Cir. 1997)). Blake also argued that when these grounds for departure were examined together, they indicated that the case fell significantly outside the Guidelines' heartland. In September 1999 the court held its first sentencing hearing. After accepting her guilty plea and going through its sentencing checklist, the court asked Blake to summarize the victim's statement. Blake responded, "She requests that I receive the maximum sentence for the injuries I've caused her. The injuries were — she suffered — I injured her hand and she's suffering now. She had surgery and she don't know if she'll be crippled for life." The court proceeded to remind Blake of numerous other details of the letter beyond the request for the maximum penalty, such as the way she stabbed Ms. Nauzo, the operation the victim went through, the extent of the injuries, and the psychological trauma Ms. Nauzo and others continue to suffer. While Blake was conceding these points, she began to sob uncontrollably. At the hearing, numerous individuals appeared in support of Blake's request for a downward departure. Among her family members were her daughter, mother, father, aunt, and uncle. In addition, Reverend Cheryl Anthony, her adviser and a friend of the family, and her mother's former companion were present. At the hearing, Blake's lawyer described how Blake has tried to make amends for what she did and discussed her psychotherapy, community service with her church, return to work, and enrollment at Pace University. The attorney also emphasized Blake's personal history and the absurd modus operandi of the crime. Counsel further claimed that even though her client answered the court's question about Ms. Nauzo's letter by focusing on the sentencing recommendation, Blake had "every word of that letter memorized" and was deeply remorseful. Defense counsel also stated that Blake wished to make financial restitution for any of Ms. Nauzo's uncovered expenses. This was an offer that Ms. Nauzo, according to the Assistant United States Attorney, refused. Following counsel's statement, Reverend Anthony spoke about Blake's involvement with her church and the counseling sessions that the two have engaged in. Blake's mother made a plea for mercy. Finally, Blake herself addressed the court, apologizing for what she had done, discussing the suffering she has caused Ms. Nauzo, and relating the benefits she has received from counseling. The government declined to take a position on the downward departure motion. It stated that "the facts of this case are so complex as to be the type of case that really should be left to the discretion of your Honor." It conceded that Blake was suffering from a major depressive episode at the time of the incident and that she has a major personality disorder. Due to the difficulty of the issues involved, the court decided to reflect upon this troubling case and not sentence Blake immediately. It ordered a copy of the minutes of the sentencing hearing to be sent to Ms. Nauzo so she could have the opportunity to respond. The sentencing date was set in March 2000, six months away, to permit a possible demonstration of further rehabilitation and contrition. G. Victim's Reaction After reviewing a transcript of the hearing, Ms. Nauzo, the victim, wrote the court another letter in September 1999. While she acknowledged the difficulties and psychological problems that have plagued the defendant, she pointed out — quite correctly — that the court should "not forget that there is a victim here — and the victim is not Ms. Summer Blake — it is I. It was my life that was threatened — my hand that was injured beyond repair." She also reminded the court of her inability to work or return to school since the incident. She pointed out that "[t]here is also a real fear that she can hurt someone else, and disrupt their life the way she did mine, and just blame it on her mental condition." Her conclusion, however, is much more equivocal than that in her earlier letter. She had originally requested that Blake receive the maximum sentence. In this second letter, while stating that while she is unsure whether a sentence of time served with five years of supervised release "will demonstrate to her the gravity of what she did," she concludes that "given the mitigating circumstances of her mental condition, I will concur with [the government]," i.e., that it is best to leave the case to the discretion of the court. H. Post-Hearing Rehabilitation Between the first sentencing hearing in September 1999 and the sentencing in March, Blake continued with her education, employment, and therapy. She enrolled at Pace University where she satisfactorily completed her first semester. She is currently attending classes three nights a week. Defendant has also maintained fairly steady employment. At the time of the initial sentencing hearing, she was working for a contracting company. Over time, however, she found that conditions in the office became, as her counsel put it, "unprofessional." Defendant felt that she was not treated well by coworkers and that other behavior in the office was disturbing. Blake also feared that she was slipping back into a depressive state. After talking with her therapist, Dr. Aponte, she decided to leave the job and seek other employment, which she subsequently found. She is currently employed full time at a substantial company as a receptionist at their office in Long Island City. Throughout this period, Blake has been in counseling with Dr. Aponte. While they have recently been meeting only on a biweekly basis, he is trying to find time in his schedule to resume weekly meetings. Blake found Dr. Aponte's assistance during her job difficulties extremely valuable. Dr. Aponte, in turn, declares that Blake's response to her employment problems laudable because she directly confronted and dealt with the issue of abuse. Blake also sent a letter to the court dated March 2, 2000, expanding on her contrition and feelings of remorse about what she had done to her victim, Ms. Nauzo. The letter reads as follows: I am writing to convey my sincerest apologies to Ms. Sheron Nauzo, the other victims of this horrible crime I committed, the institution, the people of that community, but especially Ms. Nauzo. I know and realize that I caused people lives to be changed for the worst on the day of June 22, 1998. I am sincerely sorry and even grieved that I did that awful and even frightful act to the workers of Chase Bank. I have a contrite heart because of the hurt I caused and psychical damaged I did to Ms. Nauzo. I know that the victims are suffering psychologically and even physically in Ms. Nauzo's circumstance. I pray every night for the victims of the bank robbery and their families because it was a day of tragedy for them. Ms. Sharon Nauzo has a right to be angry with me because she did not do anything to deserve what I did to her and I had no right to inflict this pain on her. Thank God, her life was not taken because of my malicious actions. I know that she had operations to repair the damages to her hand and she was suppose to have another operation and I hope it went well. I am so sorry that Ms. Nauzo has to go through this. It is torture and I cannot say sorry enough. I hope that she has feeling in her thumb and two fingers that are injured, now. I hope that with this last operation she does not have to wear a splint. I was thinking about her day to day coping and since she has difficulty using her hand to comb and wash her hair, pick up objects, or even use a computer, I wish I could be of service to her. I want to pay all the possible restitution that is necessary for her injuries. I know that it would not make everything right or heal her injuries like her hand, mind, and heart but I feel a need to pay back something I had no right to take away. I hope that she is now able to eat and sleep now normally. I also pray that she does not have anymore panic and anxiety attacks with the help of her psychological counseling. I took away a lot of valuables from Ms. Nauzo like her job she can't return to work because of me; and her faith because she doesn't understand why I would do this malicious act to her; and her trust which she needs in order to be in public alone and unafraid. What I did will damage people lives permanently because I cannot erase it from their memory. It is there past, present, and future and I am sincerely sorry for that. I will never forget what I have done and I will never take it lightly. I am hoping that one day Ms. Sheron Nauzo and the other victims of the bank robbery will have as much healing as possible. I will never allow myself to hurt another human being again. I will continuing seeking psychological therapy with Dr. Aponte and contribute to my community through Judah International Christian Center until the Court say otherwise. I plead for your mercy in this sentencing and accept whatever sentence you impose. I. Second Sentencing Hearing At the March 2000 sentencing Blake again spoke about her actions. She apologized for her statement in the earlier hearing, which she described as selfish, that focused on Ms. Nauzo's desire that the maximum sentence be imposed. Blake's parents and aunt also spoke on her behalf. Defendant's daughter was in attendance. The government again agreed that the sentence should be left to the discretion of the court but reminded it of the serious harm Ms. Nauzo suffered. Prior to imposing sentence, the court ordered that Blake's most recent letter and a picture of her daughter be sent to the victim. III. Can The Court Depart? As already noted in Part II.F, Blake has sought a downward departure upon three grounds: (i) significantly diminished capacity at the time of the offense (ii) the offense was an aberrant act, and (iii) Blake's daughter would suffer great emotional trauma if her mother were incarcerated. In addition; the court believes that Blake's significant rehabilitation since her arrest presents another ground for departure. See United States v. Core, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

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