Teenage Halloween robber’s sentence reduced by decades

The Washington State Supreme Court’s intervention knocked more than 20 years off the prison sentence Zyion Houston-Sconiers received for the 2012 armed robberies of his fellow Tacoma teenagers’ Halloween candy.

Friday, in his second shot at sentencing Houston-Sconiers, now 22, Pierce County Superior Court Judge John Hickman exercised discretion he didn’t believe he had in 2013.

Four years ago, he sent Houston-Sconiers and another teenage offender to prison for decades because of firearm-sentencing enhancements attached to their offenses

In March, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction but ruled Hickman had “absolute discretion” to give juveniles lesser sentences than the law mandates for adults.

Friday, Hickman handed Houston-Sconiers, who has served about 4 1/2 years of what was originally a 31-year prison term, a sentence with less than four years remaining on it.

Unlike the original sentence, the new one is subject to early-release terms that could free Houston-Sconiers in about 18 months, according to attorneys on each side.

“You know what the neck of a giraffe looks like?” Hickman asked Houston-Sconiers, who answered affirmatively. “Well, that’s my neck in regards to what I’ve done for you today.”

Houston-Sconiers, his feet shackled, left court smiling and waving at family members in the gallery.

On Halloween night, 2012, Houston-Sconiers, who was 17, and Treson Lee Roberts, then 16, carried a white-handled .32-caliber revolver around Tacoma streets to rob several teenagers of candy, cellphones and other things.

The seriousness of the felony charges they faced after arrest put both in adult court. Hickman said he believed the law gave him no ability to offer a lesser sentence to either.

Roberts’ resentencing was delayed until July at the request of his attorney.

Houston-Sconiers’ attorney, Barbara Corey, told Hickman “the recklessness and the carelessness” Houston displayed in the Halloween robberies did not reflect the adult he has become, citing his completion of several education and self-improvement programs behind bars.

Among other testaments to his improved character was a letter sent by State. Sen. Jeanne Darneille requesting a shorter sentence “given his positive behavior and work toward toward long-term betterment.”

Corey said that, as a teenager looking at a long prison sentence, Houston-Sconiers had been unable to make an informed judgment about a plea offer that would have gotten him a lower sentence of 17 years.

“A kid can’t visualize that,” Corey said.

Deputy Prosecutor Gregory Greer had asked Hickman to hand down a sentence with a potential 29-year prison term, noting that Houston-Sconiers was only six months away from turning 18 on the night of the robberies. Houston-Sconiers was a Hilltop Crip with a prior record, Greer noted.

“If I called him a child back then, at 17 years old, he’d laugh at me,” Greer said.

In a brief, measured address Houston-Sconiers apologized for his actions and said time for reflection had made him more self-aware.

“My mindframe was not right,” he said. “I was mad. I was angry at everybody.”

Hickman said he believed Houston-Sconiers, in part because of a “refreshingly candid” letter of apology sent to the judge. The sentence he gave was below the standard range for first-degree robbery by about 2 1/2 years.

“The court believes that a change has occurred within the defendant,” the judge said.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally