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Man given 15-year sentence for stealing rifle, car in park

by Dale Ellis | April 3, 2021 at 3:17 a.m.

A Little Rock man was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday on a federal weapons charge stemming from a 2018 carjacking in a Little Rock park.

Ynohtna Carroll, 23, was accused of grabbing a rifle from a man at the park and then stealing the man's 2016 Dodge Charger.

According to the plea agreement, Carroll admitted that on August 6, 2018, while at a Little Rock park, he grabbed the AR-15-style rifle from the victim, chambered a round and pointed it at the man before taking the rifle and the car, which was later recovered, unoccupied.

Carroll was scheduled for sentencing on Wednesday, but the hearing was stopped and rescheduled for Friday by U.S. District Judge Brian Miller after confusion over the sentencing guidelines and questions about Carroll's criminal history designation arose.

The confusion was over whether Carroll should be sentenced as a career criminal due to his criminal history.

"The offenses listed in paragraphs 21 and 22 of the pre-sentence report qualify you as a career offender," Miller said. "Because of that, I looked to the career offender table."

Miller said the guideline sentencing range for Carroll's offense, given his criminal history, ranged between 262 months and 327 months in prison, a fine up to $250,000 and between two and five years supervised release.

Carroll's attorney, William Luppen of Little Rock, argued for a lighter sentence than the guideline, saying his client should not have been designated as a career criminal because the two robbery offenses on his record had been committed when he was a juvenile, though the cases were adjudicated in adult court, and were not violent in nature.

In one offense, Luppen said, Carroll had stolen a pair of tennis shoes off a victim's feet; in the other crime, he had taken a woman's purse.

"Those are thefts, and robbery is defined as theft by force," the attorney said. "The court doesn't have any facts showing that Mr. Carroll committed any acts of force himself."

Luppen said the two crimes were committed when Carroll was 16 and 17 years old. On the second offense, he said his client plea-bargained for a seven-year sentence in adult court to qualify for sentencing at an Arkansas Department of Corrections boot camp.

"There's no doubt he was a juvenile," Luppen said. "But the first time he comes to circuit court he's not given the benefit of being a juvenile. He's treated as an adult, and that's why he's sitting here looking at that guideline range he has right now."

Luppen said Carroll's family history had left him virtually on his own from the time he was in seventh grade after his mother was sentenced to prison.

"I get the picture, I really do," Miller said. "What would you say is an appropriate range of punishment for a 23-year-old man?"

Luppen said the statutory minimum sentence of seven years in prison up to 12 years would be a more appropriate sentence for Carroll's criminal history.

"Anything above that, 15 to 28, that's a soul killer," Luppen said. "That's what I call it."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti disagreed, saying the government would be amenable to a low-end sentence of 262 months, which is two months short of 22 years, but that the nature of the crimes did not suggest a more lenient sentence would be appropriate.

She pointed out that had either of Carroll's first two robbery offenses involved a firearm, he would be facing a far more serious fate.

"If you have two robberies involving a firearm you're looking at mandatory life," Mazzanti said. "The facts of this case involve threats to a young man who had a firearm in his possession, and the defendant turned the firearm around on him and threatened him, saying, 'This s * *t is took. You gonna take one to the head on the blood.'

"You have someone in this case at the risk of being shot. And then he takes another guy's gun who's in the car, and he runs off with the car. This is an incredibly serious offense."

Mazzanti said when Carroll was arrested at 16 for stealing a person's tennis shoes, he was with a group that attacked the person, stealing personal items from him and injuring him in the process.

"That first robbery was not just slipping someone's shoes off their feet," she said. "They beat him down."

Carroll, who has been jailed on pre-trial detention for about 2.5 years, said the time he had spent incarcerated had given him time to think about the direction his life was going.

"I have made mistakes in my life, but I don't want those mistakes to define me as a young man," he said.

"It wasn't that you made mistakes, but it's that you made bad choices. A mistake is I need to drive down one street, and I turned down the wrong street," Miller said. "Just own what you've done."

Miller said Carroll's age made him see a 21-year sentence as too harsh, but he said a seven-year sentence would be much too lenient, "a travesty."

So the judge settled on 180 months, or 15 years, in prison and five years supervised release as an acceptable compromise.

"I'm going to tell you, I'm not 100% sure, Mr. Carroll, that's the appropriate sentence," Miller said. "But for some reason, I just can't get there on the age and on the offenses you've had so far to give you 21 years, so you're getting a break strictly based on your age. It's not that I have a whole lot of confidence."

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