Seattle teen sentenced to 19 years in prison for 'cold-blooded' murder
A 19-year-old Seattle area woman was sentenced Thursday to 19 years and 3 months in prison for the 2016 murder of a man she intended to rob.
Maryanne Atkins pleaded guilty Dec. 3, 2018 to one count of second-degree murder and one count of second-degree unlawful firearm possession, after she was charged with the murder of Emmanuel Gondo on Feb. 24, 2016. Atkins was 16 years old at the time, Gondo was 21.
In a King County courtroom benches filled with over 40 witnesses including the family and friends of the victim, Emmanuel Gondo, and the 86-year-old former neighbor of Atkins, Cherie Ferguson, who spoke on her behalf. Atkins' attorney held her trembling hand as the judgment was delivered.
Judge Marshall Ferguson deliberated before the court the defense for Atkins, but ultimately came to the conclusion that her traumatic life as a sexual abuse survivor and neglected child didn't provide a sufficient enough defense for the crime she committed. He also said the lies and denials she told during trial weighed on his decision.
The defense had argued for a reduced sentence based on the immaturity of the defendant because of her troubled youth, in line with a decision by the Washington Supreme Court that demanded youth be taken into consideration when sentencing.
"When teenagers are backed into a corner, they lie," he said, but added the "cruelty of the lies she told," that denigrated Gondo's character, went beyond anything attributable to youth.
"The unwillingness of the defense to call her out on her lies and manipulation undermine her rehabilitation," prosecuting attorney Jessica Berliner told the court.
Prosecutors argued that any self-defense was false, and that the robbery which led to the murder was planned, based on messages from Atkins to a friend that Gondo was an "easy lick," or an easy person to rob. Because of this, they argued, Atkins' trauma as a child was no excuse for the way she shot Gondo.
Both sides, and the judge, acknowledged promise for Atkins' rehabilitation. With the prosecutors' recommended sentence, Atkins would be released from prison in her late 30s, over 20 years since her first day in juvenile detention in 2016.
Gondo's family's pastor, George Everett, spoke to the court, telling the judge that the decision made would affect how his community thought of the place they had come to, to escape civil war.
"What will our children learn, from what has happened to one of them," Everett said. "Will it be maybe because you're from Africa or you don't speak the language as much as the people speak it, stuff can be fabricated or your life does not matter."
The defense argued early during the sentencing that they had provided evidence of juveniles thinking and acting differently than adults, especially when confronted with dangerous situations.
Atkins at one point during the trial accused Gondo of raping her before she shot him, a claim that Mother Jones reported in an article likening the case to the Cyntoia Brown clemency.
Atkins' attorney Colleen O'Connor alluded to evidence provided during the trial that Atkins' trauma from childhood affected her thinking and the way she reacted. Two different psychologists interviewed her and both opined that her life with an abusive father, neglectful mother and living on the streets led to her "perception that her life was in danger the night of the murder," court documents said.
One psychologist said he found Atkins convincing when she told her about Gondo raping her, court documents said.
The defense ultimately withdrew the testimony from the psychologists, and Atkins wrote in a document that she "intentionally" shot Gondo while robbing him.
Cherie Ferguson spoke to the court and confirmed the abuse Atkins received from her father when she was about 10 years old, living in Everett.
"I know the hell she went through," Cherie Ferguson told SeattlePI. "She was troubled and acted out, and it led to this.
"If she gets that sentence, she's got a snowball's chance in hell."
Atkins was sentenced to spend the next two decades in the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy, Washington. She has 30 days from March 21 to appeal the sentence.