Halloween robbers receive sentences

Adam Lynn

Staff writer

Zyion Houston-Sconiers and Treson Roberts got 96 pieces of candy, a cellphone and a devil mask during robberies of Tacoma trick-or-treaters last Halloween.

    It couldn't have been worth it.

    On Friday, the two teenagers were sentenced in Pierce County Superior Court to prison terms of 31 and 26 years, respectively, for their robbery spree.

    And it could have been worse.

    Prosecutors recommended to Judge John Hickman that neither teen be sentenced for their underlying crimes – which included multiple counts of robbery – but simply serve the mandatory sentencing enhancements they accrued for using a gun during the crimes.

    "The rationale for this recommendation is based simply on the state's assessment that a 42-to-45-year sentence for Houston-Sconiers and a 37-to-40-year sentence for Roberts is perhaps excessive, although reasonable people could differ," deputy prosecutor Gregory Greer wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

    Greer's decision, and Hickman's acceptance of it, saved both defendants about 10 years in prison.

    Deputy prosecutor Jesse Williams argued Friday the defendants still deserved a lengthy prison term.

    "These are extremely serious and egregious crimes," Williams told Hickman. People feared for their lives that night because the defendants decided to rob them, the deputy prosecutor said.

    Prosecutors argued at trial that Houston-Sconiers, 18, and Roberts, 17, were among a group of teenagers who held up four groups of trick-or-treaters during a 78-minute span on Halloween night 2012. The robbers brandished a .22-caliber pistol, police said.

    Two codefendants escaped prosecution when they agreed to testify against Houston-Sconiers and Roberts. A fifth defendant pleaded guilty in juvenile court to robbery.

    Houston-Sconiers was 17 at the time of his arrest and Roberts 16, but prosecutors decided to try them as adults.

    Last month, a jury convicted them of multiple counts of robbery and assault, and, importantly, found that they'd been armed with a gun while committing those crimes. Mandatory gun sentencing enhancements attached to those convictions totaled 372 months for Houston-Sconiers and 312 months for Roberts.

    Defense attorney Barbara Corey, who represented Houston-Sconiers, accused prosecutors of piling on charges and the related gun enhancements after her client decided to go to trial.

    "That's wrong," Corey said. "That being said, Mr. Houston-Sconiers did a terrible thing."

    Still, she said, the law is clear that the gun-sentencing enhancements must be served after the jury's verdict against her client.

    Houston-Sconiers then apologized for his actions that night, saying he was sorry he scared the victims and let down his friends and family.

    "I messed up," he told Hickman. "I'm here to take responsibility and ask for your mercy."

    Defense attorney Chip Mosley, who represented Roberts, then took his turn.

    Mosley, too, bemoaned the fact that the law gives judges no discretion when it comes to imposing gun sentencing enhancements. He argued that his client was not one of the prime actors during the robberies and that 26 years seemed like a long time for a hanger-on.

    "It was a youthful indiscretion," the defense attorney said.

    Roberts spoke briefly and offered an apology to the victims.

    Hickman said he was sympathetic to a degree but that there was nothing he could do other than accept Greer's recommendation.

    Still, he said, Houston-Sconiers and Roberts used a gun to rob "innocent minor children of Halloween candy and cellphones." Their actions further eroded society's sense of well-being and added an element of fear to a childhood rite – trick-or-treating on Halloween – that should be a time of fun, he said.

    "I think we're lowering the bar when it comes to behaviors we cannot tolerate or accept," the judge said.