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Posted November 21, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Crack ring defendant may get lower sentence

Woman assisted in prosecution of other members

By Joe Beck

A woman convicted of participating in a ring that sold cocaine throughout Winchester may receive less than the 10-year sentencing minimum specified in federal guidelines if a judge agrees with a prosecutor's memo submitted Wednesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Grayson Hoffman recommended the lesser sentence for Sycarra Lawonn Chinn, citing assistance she provided to the government in the prosecution of other members of the ring.

Chinn is one of eight defendants in the case, five of whom were convicted after a nine-day jury trial in October and November during which she gave key testimony for the government. Authorities estimate the ring sold more than 2,700 grams of crack in Winchester from May 2009 to February 2012.

Hoffman's memo said he would give more details about his recommendation at a sentencing hearing scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski.

Chinn testified at the trial of five of the ring's defendants: Nikki Williams, Alphonso Britton, Antonio Williams, Demario Coffie and Santonio Minus. The jury found them guilty on most of the 27 counts against them.

In his closing arguments to the jury, Hoffman recounted for the jury how Chinn shook visibly from fear on the witness stand.

"She was petrified in the face of those five defendants," Hoffman said.

A sentencing memorandum filed by Chinn's attorney, W. Kent Bowers of Harrisonburg, called for the minimum sentence of 10 years.

Bowers described Chinn, 23, as someone plagued by "insecurity engendered by her unstable childhood and the feelings of inadequacy that caused her to seek refuge in drugs and relationships with those associated with that lifestyle."

Months before testifying, Chinn pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute hundreds of grams of crack and another count of simple distribution of crack.

Bowers's sentencing memorandum estimates she "sold or facilitated" the sale of crack 20 to 25 times from May 2011 until she was arrested in April 2012.

Bowers wrote "the sales were done largely at the request of Santonio Minus, a man with whom she shared a close personal relationship and a major participant" in the drug ring.

Bowers said it did not appear that Chinn was paid or retained any money she handled in helping Minus sell individual bits of crack, usually at $50 or less per transaction.

"Sycarra's motivation for participating in this criminal enterprise is puzzling," he wrote. "There is no evidence that she benefited in any material way from her role in the offense."

Bowers said a psychological evaluation attached to the referendum determined that Chinn suffered from self-destructive tendencies and a need for approval that may have led her to join Minus and others in the conspiracy.

Bowers cited shoplifting and minor drug usage as her only previous crimes.

"Sycarra was not a user of crack cocaine or other hard drugs and does not appear to have been motivated in any way by monetary gain or her own addiction in participating in this conspiracy," Bowers said. "Again, it would appear that her desire to please others and fit in were behind the poor choices."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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