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10 year-sentence for culprit in robbery plot upsets Pr. George's victim

Ruben Castaneda

A Clinton man who, with his family, was taken hostage at gunpoint in a bank robbery attempt was not pleased Friday when a Prince George's judge sentenced one of his attackers to 10 years in prison.

"[Expletive] y'all!" James Spruill exclaimed as he stormed out of the Upper Marlboro courtroom after Circuit Court Judge Michael Pearson imposed the sentence on Yohannes T. Surafel, 25.

Sheriff's deputies summoned Spruill back to the courtroom. He went to the bench for a brief talk with Pearson, which was not audible to most courtroom spectators. As Spruill left the courtroom with his wife, a courtroom observer heard Spruill say he had apologized for his outburst.

During Friday's sentencing hearing, Assistant State's Attorney Carol Coderre had asked for 31 years in prison, the maximum under advisory state sentencing guidelines.

Surafel's defense attorney, Richard V. Finci, argued that Surafel deserved leniency because of traumatic events he had experienced, including having a close friend killed in 2007 in the mass murder at Virginia Tech, where Surafel was a student at the time.

In announcing the sentence, Pearson said there was "no doubt" Surafel had experienced difficulties in his life, and added that his victims "literally had their lives invaded in such a frightening and horrifying way."

In March, Surafel, of the District, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault, using a handgun in a crime of violence, and two counts of false imprisonment.

His guilt was not resolved until a week later, when Pearson turned down a defense motion seeking to have Surafel deemed "not criminally responsible" for his actions. Finci argued that Surafel suffered from a mental disorder that left him incapable of determining right from wrong.

According to prosecutors, Surafel spearheaded a brazen abduction and bank robbery attempt that began on the evening of Dec. 26, 2008. Authorities said Surafel and two accomplices waited for LaChrista Hamilton, an employee at a SunTrust Bank in Silver Spring, to return to her home in Clinton after work. When Hamilton arrived, Surafel and an accomplice, wearing masks and armed with a gun and a knife, forced their way into the home, authorities said.

Using electrical cord, the attackers tied up Hamilton, her husband, Spruill, and their children, aged 11 and 8, according to police.

The robbers said Surafel would go to the bank the next morning with Hamilton for money while the rest of the family would go elsewhere with the accomplice. To keep the family together, Spruill said they were expecting a visitor in the morning.

Surafel decided to keept he family together, and they all piled into the family car the next morning for the drive to the bank in Silver Spring. Surafel sat in the back with a gun, authorities said.

As he drove on the Beltway near Route 1 about 7:30 a.m., Spruil noticed a Maryland state trooper in his rearview mirror. Spruill swerved, prompting the trooper to pull him over.

When the trooper asked for his driver's license, Spruill instead handed over his bank card to signal something was wrong. Spruill then lunged into the back seat, pinning Surafel's hands while he warned the trooper about the gun. The trooper drew his weapon, and Surafel surrendered.

Surafel's gun was unloaded, Finci said.

During Friday's hearing, Surafel said he was "extremely sorry" for what he had put his victims through.

On March 26, one of Surafel's co-defendants, Yosef Tadele, 24, was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to being an accessory after the fact to kidnapping.

The third accomplice is at large.

-- Ruben Castaneda

By Ruben Castaneda  |  April 30, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse , Pr. George's , Ruben Castaneda  | Tags: Yohannes T. Surafel, Yosef Tadele, bank robbery  
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Let's see. He invaded their home. Tied up and held a couple and their two kids overnight. And gets only 10 years because "of traumatic events he had experienced, including having a close friend killed..".
If having experience traumatic events is justification for this crime then it's a good thing he hadn't been shot previously then I guess that would have been justification for him to execute the whole family.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | April 30, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

A typical response by a typical PG County judge. Want to know why criminals continue their violent behavior? There's your answer. Judges who are afraid to do the job they are appointed to do. When this clown is released in about 3 years see how long it takes before he's arrested again. What a joke the criminal justice system is.

Posted by: gpl2411 | April 30, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Why would anyone ever live in PG County if they could afford to live elsewhere?

I just don't get it, its obviously one of the most dysfunctional counties in the entire nation.

Posted by: kenk3 | April 30, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Lovely! Typical PG leftict crappy judges.

Posted by: madmike272 | April 30, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

The ten year verdict (likely three in custody) is shocking...but not as shocking as the four year verdict (maybe 1.5 in custody) for the accomplice. Really: abduct a whole family of four at gun-point to rob a bank and you get *maybe* 18 months in jail?! Maryland is such a ghetto, and this is why.

Folks are right: In PG county "criminal justice" is a contradiction in terms. "[Expletive] y'all!" is the least of what I'd say if I was the victim.

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | April 30, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

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