BREAKING: Jacquetta Simmons sentenced to five years in prison
NOTE: Final update to story posted at 3:19 p.m.
Jacquetta Simmons, who last Christmas Eve socked a 70-year-old Walmart cashier in the face, will spend this holiday in state prison, Judge Robert C. Noonan ruled in Genesee County Court this morning.
Simmons was given a five-year sentence and three years post-release supervision.
Noonan's decision came at the end of a tense and emotional 90-minute hearing.
Attorneys argued over the merits of the Probation Department's pre-sentence investigation. The victim, Grace Suozzi, spoke for five minutes and told Noonan about what she had been through and the toll the assault has taken on her life. And, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman asked for the maximum sentence while Anne Nichols, representing Simmons, asked for probation.
Through it all, Simmons, now eight months pregnant, and dressed in a white sweater and black skirt, sat motionless.
Her only statement in court was brief.
"I'm truly sorry, I am, and I feel bad about what Grace and her family have endured, all the things they've been going through right now," Simmons said.
Simmons was arrested Dec. 24 at Walmart after being asked for a receipt by Walmart cashier Grace Suozzi. Simmons was with her brother, who was holding a bag of items the siblings had just purchased to help their mother prepare Christmas Eve dinner.
Simmons refused to show Suozzi the receipt and engaged in a tirade of racial and vulgar epithets.
After arguing for several minutes, Simmons grabbed the bag of merchandise and tried to leave the store. Suozzi stepped around her register and walked toward Simmons. A video played at the trial shows Simmons delivering, as Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini put it, "a roundhouse punch" to Suozzi, sending her flying across the floor.
As Simmons and her brother tried to flee, a group of citizens intervened and kept them from driving away.
Simmons was subsequently arrested and charged with two felonies and was convicted by a jury on Aug. 24 of one of those assault charges.
Suozzi suffered fractures in her face and permanent nerve damage.
While some 100 people submitted letters through the defense to the judge telling him, Noonan said, what a good person Simmons is and that she has contributed much to the community, the prosecution painted a picture of a young woman who can't accept that she did anything wrong and has shown no remorse for her assault.
"This defendant has shown no remorse, no empathy, no acceptance of responsibility," Friedman said.
The DA then recited statements Simmons has made, mostly as part of the pre-sentence investigation, such as, "It was very unfortunate that Grace was hit," and "I hold not hate or bitterness toward Grace."
When asked to describe the crime she committed, Simmons wrote, according to Friedman, "Accidentally hitting a woman over 65."
"Your honor, this vicious, unprovoked assault on an innocent victim, more than two and a half times the age of the perpetrator makes this a crime that is, I suggest, one that needs to be taken very seriously by this court," Friedman said. "That coupled with the impact this crime has had on Grace Suozzi and those who care about her, I suggest your honor, fully indicates this defendant should now be sentenced to the maximum sentence permitted by law."
Sitting in the court to support Simmons, Nichols told Noonan, were several friends, her parents and her husband. They all knew, Nichols said, that Simmons is a good person. She said Simmons is college educated, has volunteered for literacy programs, youth programs and hopes someday to open a shelter for homeless people.
"She is not the person she's been painted to be in this courtroom," Nichols said. "In this courtroom she has been painted out to be a racist, someone who has no regard for others. That is simply not the case, Judge. As the people who are in this courtroom to support her here today, and the people in the community who submitted letters will tell you, that is not Jacquetta Simmons."
A prison term for Simmons would do nobody any good, Nichols said.
"Grace has suffered something horrible," Nichols said. "She suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. That's not going to resolve with Ms. Simmons sitting in a jail cell, nor is that going to do this community any good."
Before either Noonan or Friedman had their say, Suozzi spoke. In a five-minute statement, the petite grandmother explained the impact the assault had on her life and on her family. She described ongoing pain and health issues, stress and distress and how her "golden years" have been taken from her.
"What she has taken away from me is irreplaceable," Suozzi said. "She took away my independence. Working at Walmart and at the Board of Elections helped me to pay my bills. She has taken my joy and replaced it with physical pain and emotional trauma.
"She felt OK to drive with a suspended license," Suozzi added. "She felt it was OK to park in a handicapped spot. She committed a horrible crime and has total disregard for laws, rules or policy, and won't even comply with a reasonable request."
At times, she said, she thought God was getting ready to take her home and so she placed all of her important documents on her dresser so everything would be ready, she said.
Suozzi said she was ashamed that Simmons claims to be a Christian but put her hand on a Bible and "lied under oath."
When asking for Simmons to get he maximum sentence, Suozzi said, "I pray that she too will seek and serve our Lord instead of Satan."
Following Suozzi's statement, her daughter, Teresa Wormley, spoke about the impact the attack has had on her and the entire Suozzi family. Melissa Cianfrini then read a letter from Joseph Suozzi, who is head of the FBI office in Cincinnati and was unable to attend the hearing.
Before pronouncing sentence, Noonan made a long statement, noting that prior to trial he ruled that there wasn't enough evidence presented to the grand jury to support one of the charges against Simmons for assault in the second degree.
While Simmons was tried under the statute for assault against a person age 65 or older while the assailant is more than 10 years younger, the other assault charge required proof that the defendant intended to cause serious physical injury.
Noonan didn't think that evidence was present in the grand jury transcript, but after sitting through the trial and seeing all of the evidence against Simmons, Noonan expressed some thought that Simmons may have intended serious physical injury.
"There were things not evident to the grand jury but were evident at trial, and they are astounding," Noonan said. "For one thing, the difference in size of Ms. Simmons and the size of Grace Suozzi. The defendant is two and half times the size and weight, a foot taller and 40 years younger than the victim. Boy, oh, boy, that’s a disproportionate bargaining position when it comes to an unusual display of anger."
Noonan said he can accept that Simmons is more like the person portrayed in the letters he received from supporters, and less like the portrayals in the media and court, but Dec. 24, he said, was a different matter.
“One of the factors in sentencing is considering the gravity of the act and this was a senseless, brutal act," Noonan said. "There is no other way to describe it.
"It took the jury," Noonan added, "after a fairly lengthy trial, it took the jury very little time to reject this defense ... that this was somehow an accidental pulling away of the defendant and when she was really just trying to get away and she accidently punched Grace Suozzi. That is clearly untrue. If it wasn’t clear enough through the many witnesses, it was certainly evident by watching the video over and over and over and over. It was a brutal, brutal assault."
Finally, Noonan said another key factor in sentencing is whether the defendant shows a sense of remorse.
“I think it’s kind of interesting that the defense counsel says that the defendant shows remorse because she’s sorry for something that happened to Grace," Noonan said. "Remorse is not being sorry something that happened to somebody. Remorse is being sorry for what you did. The defendant has never expressed anything close to being sorry for her own criminal conduct."
Outside of court, after the hearing, Friedman reiterated that Simmons at no point showed any remorse for her crime.
"The defense tried to characterize some things the defendant said in the pre-sentence investigation as indicating remorse, but I don’t think anything could be further from the truth," Friedman said. "She absolutely did not accept any responsibility for what she did."
Even though Friedman sought the full seven-year term Noonan could have handed down, he said he was satisfied with the results.
"Obviously, we meant what we said when we indicated that we felt a seven-year sentence was appropriate, but you know I certainly don’t question the wisdom of what Judge Noonan did," Friedman said.
Attorney Earl Key and co-counsel Nichols declined to speak with reporters after the sentencing. Key brushed past one reporter and said the case would be appealed.
Previously, Key has said Simmons did not receive a fair trial, primarily because of media coverage of the crime. Today, in her courtroom statement, Nichols said Simmons did receive a fair trial.
NOTE: The Batavian has provided the most comprehensive coverage in Western New York of this crime since it was first reported from scanner traffic Dec. 24, 2011. For our complete coverage dating back to the first report of the assault, click here.
JUSTICE PREVAILS !!! 'BOUT TIME
is this election year for MR. NOONAN and the D.A.'S
Thank you Howard for your quick break of the story. As of 12:15 PM you are the only source locally that I found has anything posted (WBTA, Daily News, YNN).
I do not at all condone what she did, or was i in court to hear it all, but 5 years sounds pretty harse for a 1st time offense
Eric [Rick] von k...,
You wrote in full, “I do not at all condone what she did, or was i in court to hear it all, but 5 years sounds pretty harse for a 1st time offense.”
I’m curious; had you sat through the entire trial as a spectator, what sentence would you recommend?
Her attorney failed her. She should have been advised to take a plea deal. The odds of an acquittal in this case were very long, and it wasn't because of racism. There was just too much evidence against her, hence she should have tried for a plea deal.
You wrote in part; “the odds of an acquittal in this case were very long, and it wasn't because of racism. There was just too much evidence against her, hence she should have tried for a plea deal.”
I agree with this in full, however, her attorney very well could have advised her to take the plea deal and she refused, totally discounted this good legal advice for reasons of her own.
I can think a few words to explain this....arrogance for one, belligerence, recalcitrance, ignorance, remorseless....actions speak louder than words.
She was offered a plea deal and she declined it and decided to roll the dice with a jury. She was offered a maximum sentence of three-and-a-half years, but given her first-time offender status and her charity work, it is possible the judge would have given her even less than three-and-a-half years, possibly even the option of shock probation (intermittent JAIL time, followed by five years probation). What conversations she had with her attorney about this are unknowable. Perhaps he advised her reasonably about the evidence against her and how it might play out with a jury. But given the zeal and argumentative predilection of her supporters, it is possible they convinced her "to fight this thing," which, if that's the case, was obviously poor advice that her lawyer may not have been able to override.
Jacquetta's behavior, her racial outbursts and the assault combined with the fact that she would have just left the store had she not been stopped says a lot about her. It says she had no regard for Mrs Suozzi after she left the woman laying there on the floor. She was only thinking about herself, to get away. This was more than just an assault.
Nobody wins here in this senseless event. Grace is still in pain, her life changed, and this woman's life is changed.
This whole thing just makes me sad. None of it needed to occur, but we forget, even good people, to slow down and look at the long term ramifications of a situation. I'm relatively positive that if you were to tell Ms. Simmons a year ago that a last minute trip to Wal-mart on Christmas Eve was going to lead to her knocking out a 70 year old woman, going to jail (while pregnant) for five years, and severely limiting her future, she may have just thought that was crazy.
I wish Grace, and her entire family continued recovery and peace.
I also hope that Ms. Simmons' time brings her closer to whatever faith she holds to, and that it will bring her the clarity she needs, so that she can move on from this event with a stronger resolve and purpose.
Well said, Phil Ricci.
It's disturbing that according to the DA, she still will not admit what she did.
I am surprised. While Judge Noonan could have given her a maximum of 7 years on the class D felony, I think even 5 years is excessive. Given her lack of criminal history, I really thought we had a probation candidate. Her attorney should have INSISTED the plea deal was in her best interest.
I wonder, did she go to jail today? Or were accomodations made for her pregnancy?
She was immediately taken into custody. Typically, new convicts are held at the local jail until transfer to prison, which takes some time. Since the Genesee County Jail cannot house women, she will be held in a neighboring county jail. I overheard an official today say that there is a prison near New York City where most pregnant prisoners go. I've not verified that.
The attorney can insist, but the defendant has to say yes.
As for the pregnancy, once she starts her sentence, she'll be sent to Bedford Hills, the major facility for women. She will have her baby and can have the baby stay with her at Bedford for about 6 months. Then it will be expected that the father will take the baby home.
Later, she will be transferred to Albion Correctional Facility. She might even qualify for the Work Release program in about 3 years.
@ Mr Prevost
What sentence should she have received if she slugged YOU?
Justice for Ms.Suozzi.....For Simmons to allow herself to get pregnant during all this seems odd in its self..The state will bear the burden of paying for this pregnancy..Simmons is a very selfish human being to put her child and Ms.Suozzi thru this..So i guess two people suffered in all this Ms.Suozzi and the child she is carrying.......Doug you said it correctly..It is more than just an assault..
Everyone here seems to overlook that a felony is a felony is a felony whether you are a first time offender or an habitual criminal. How soon we forget the day that three gentlemen from Buffalo, with no criminal pasts decided to take a drive to Elba and rob a bank. While I'm sure there was signicant distress for those customers and employees at the time, no physical violence was taken against those persons as is the case here. Previous to that day, these men were also model citizens. Should lack of criminal background be taken into account when sentencing for each of these men is handed down? Again, a felony is a felony, is a felony.
@Mr. Raines: I said I was surprised, not displeased.
July 30, 2012, I posted on this site:
Hit, punch, roundhouse, cold cock.....all applicable, Ms. Nichols. I know it's your duty to provide diligent representation to Jaqueeshie, and you are only manipulating the words to hold your client in a better light. But the film don't lie, ma'am, and your client violently lashed out at another person.
Glad Jaquaotie didn't take the plea deal, because then the judge owes her no leniency, and she'll be bye-bye for a few years.
And Tim, she wouldn't have taken a swing at me, cause I'm not an old lady. Had it been me, she wouldn't have received the sentence she did. What she did was reprehensible, but I am still surprised at the severity of the sentence.
In hindsight, she took a gamble, and lost. Her attorney did her no favors by being as arrogant as she was. And BTW, this will be appealed I'm sure.
Linda, Class B felony vs. Class D felony, they arent the same. Class D she could have received as much as 7 years, and she got 5. These alleged robbers could get as much as 25 years. Big difference.
I totally understand the difference, Bud. My significant other is a retired defense attorney. The point I was trying to make here is do we sentence persons who have committed a serious felony based on having lived exempliary lifestyles prior to the commission of a crime. That seems to be an underlying thread in the comments on the sentence Ms. Simmons was given. How can someone who's lived a just and moral life be given 5 years for a first felony offence? Maybe I'm off the mark here.
My guess is the PSI from probation, along with her turning down the plea bargain, had something to do with it.( And having family head an office for the FBI must carry some clout :) )
"She is not the person she's been painted to be in this courtroom," Nichols said. "In this courtroom she has been painted out to be a racist, someone who has no regard for others. That is simply not the case, Judge..."
I don't think she was "painted" by anyone in that courtroom. The video showed Ms. Simmons anger pretty clearly. If a "normal" person (whatever that might be) was even super upset at something, they still don't deliver a roundhouse punch directly to the face of a 70 year old woman, period. For whatever reason, Ms. Simmons went far, far, beyond the reaction probably 99% of people would have. It wasn't her race that got her into this mess, it was her horrific anger directed without prevocation, and directed towards a woman who clearly didn't deserve it or see it coming.
I don't know what I think about the sentence she received, but I do know that Grace will be affected forever, both mentally and physically. The sentence won't fix how Grace feels or lives, and I wish that it could.
Ms. Simmons was quoted by numeous whitnesses as screaming "that F**ing White Bitch" sounds like a racial slur to me!!
I was in the courtroom today and although I agree that Ms. Simmons may be a great person who has volunteared to help people read and wanted to work with the elderly and taught Sunday school, Judge Noonan said that on Dec. 24, 2011 she commited a serious crime that was toatly out of character for the person she usually was (not his exact words) and I agree, she made a very bad decision that day and that will effect the rest of her life, her childs life and most importantly Grace's life. I think she got what she deserved.
As a side note as I walked out of the court house to my car I heard many of her supporters yelling in the parking lot "she got railroaded" and "This is Bull Shit" and "This ain't over" I wished the media would have been able to get this on camera but alas..............
Gary you are really getting me started now. This whole thing of fired up victims is absolutely absurd. It has become so indicative of that whole generation. It transends racial lines and is a general grouping of their age. They are victims and entiled to be allowed to behave the way they do. WRONG WRONG WRONG I see more and more every day from the people I see at work, at home, and at play. It almost always starts with "you wont believe what so and so did that sob, I have been wronged." Unbelievable! I blame the parents for teaching our kids to not take the high road or the hard worked road, instead they say not my little Jimmy, he's the victim here, its the poor old lady he punched in the face as hard as he could FAULT for not getting out of the way. UUUUGGGGGGG!!!!!!!! Until we stop raising victims this crap and the other crap we read or hear about on a daily bases will not end.
I agree, and oh the sroies I could tell with people I work with "It's the cops fault" or so-n-so's fault "I am the victem here" I hear it everyday!!
Maybe she thought that getting pregnant would earn her a sympathy badge. Access denied.
In this verdict, Judge Noonan set a precedent, the people will not tolerate this behavior, bravo to the Judge.