Judge gives NY carjacker a break in long sentence

AP News
Posted: Jul 29, 2014 8:48 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A man serving a 57-year sentence for three armed carjackings in the mid-1990s won a reprieve on Tuesday when a federal judge agreed that the punishment was "unjust."

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson re-sentenced Francois Holloway to time served — about two decades — after telling him he deserved a second chance. Holloway still must do additional time in an old state drug case, but he could be out by early next year.

"All I have to say to you is make it count," Gleeson said in Brooklyn federal court.

Behind bars, Holloway converted to Islam, passed a high school equivalency exam and largely stayed out of trouble. He thanked the judge on Tuesday for giving him the chance to reunite with his ailing 75-year-old mother and to meet his grandchildren for the first time.

"You are putting a lot of blind trust in me," he said. "There will be no cause for regret in the decisions made today."

Holloway, 57, originally was sentenced by Gleeson in an era when mandatory sentencing rules required him to serve consecutive terms not only for convictions in the carjackings but for additional, overlapping counts of using a firearm during a crime. The result was a total of 57 years and seven months in the federal system with no parole.

In 2012, after exhausting his appeals, Holloway asked Gleeson to reopen the case on the basis that the term was unfair when considered under today's less restrictive sentencing guidelines. The effort won over some unlikely allies: prosecutors, his victims — and Gleeson.

The judge responded by asking prosecutors to consider withdrawing their initial opposition to vacating a portion of the conviction. He noted the extreme disparity between Holloway's 691-month sentence and the 77-month average received by defendants convicted of robbery in federal court in 2013. The average sentence for a murder convict was 268 months.

Cases like Holloway's "would be laughable if only there weren't real people on the receiving end of them," the judge wrote in a court papers earlier this week.

He added that Holloway "would have likely fared better if he had committed murder."

Prosecutor Sam Nitze told the judge at an earlier hearing that the government had tracked down carjacking victims who, though still "terrified by the experience," agreed that "20 years is an awfully long time, and people deserve another chance."

The case is a reminder that there are inmates who "are serving grotesquely severe sentences," sometimes in nonviolent cases, the judge wrote. He credited prosecutors for deciding that "it need not stand by silently while Holloway serves three more decades of an unjust sentence."