Don't ever let anyone tell you that it is impossible for family members to influence the punishment a judge dispenses to a criminal.
On July 8, the mother and father of Tonisha Alecia Moore, the 24-year-old woman convicted of selling two girls, ages 13 and 17, for sex in several states and near Disneyland in 2012, showed up inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse to beg for mercy from U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for Moore to receive at least 121 months or as much as 151 months in prison, but her parents spoke so eloquently and passionately about their daughter's troubled background that Carney, already one of the most sensitive sentencing judges in Orange County, didn't just toss out the guidelines.
Carney apologized for having to send Moore to prison and handed her a gift few human trafficking criminals win: She got a whopping 51-month reduction, the exact amount her defense lawyer, Randolph K. Driggs, requested in what he likely thought was a pipe dream suggestion: 70 months of incarceration.
By the look on Driggs' lotto-jackpot-winning-facial expression, you could have knocked him over with a feather.
Given Carney's tone, the defense lawyer is probably now thinking he should have asked for just 25 or 50 months.
Late last month, Eric Lamar Wells, Moore's co-defendant in the prostitution ring, also got a sentencing reduction but only to 120 months in prison.
Pamela Williams, Moore's mother, told Carney she knew God granted her prayers when she received a call that her daughter had been arrested.
“[God] heard my cries,” Williams said, explaining that Wells “forced” her daughter to be a prostitute and participate in the sale of the minors through “evilness,” and acts of violence.
She described Wells as a disgusting, violent pimp with no redeeming features while she assured Carney that her daughter will become “a productive citizen in society” and a good mother to the young child the defendant had with Wells.
Anthony Moore, the defendant's father, told the judge that he was in prison when his daughter was born and during her childhood, and wasn't there to prevent her from being repeatedly molested by adults.
“I'm nervous today,” he said. “The last time I was in a courtroom I was sitting over there [at the defense table].”
He told the judge that onetime after he had to rescue his daughter from Wells, the pimp called his cell phone and “He said he owned her.”
Finally, the father said that the prosecutor's report on his daughter's crimes doesn't “depict her as she is.”
Moore wiped tears from her eyes and observed how the sentencing hearing was the first time in decades that she'd seen her divorced parents together.
She apologized “wholeheartedly” for her crimes, saying, “Being sober and looking back I'm ashamed, I'm embarrassed and I regret a lot of things.”
Calling her arrest “a blessing in disguise,” she said, “I've learned to get over Wells and I'm working on a better me.”
She claims she hopes someday to either join an existing organization or create her own “to help young women–prostitutes–get out of this lifestyle because I remember feeling like I was trapped.”
Carney applauded an impressive, long list of educational successes Moore earned while in jail awaiting resolution to her case, thanked the parents for their sincere comments, and seemed overwhelmed by the defendant's life story.
He noted that Moore has endured sexual molestations when she was “five and six years old,” later addictions to cocaine and marijuana, and an unfortunate, abusive relationship with Wells.
The judge said, “I'd like to say, 'Ms. Moore, you are free to go, but I don't have that power.”
(Even Assistant United States Attorney Mark P. Takla said he was impressed by the defense arguments for leniency.)
In the end, the solemn judge said it was with “a heavy heart” that he gave Moore 70 months in prison–a term that will be additionally reduced by the 14 months she's already served inside the Santa Ana Jail.
“I do have hope for you,” said Carney, “I'm a firm believer in redemption.”