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Carjacker Given 15 Years in Prison

James Eric Garnett's defense attorney hoped her client would receive a fairly light sentence, last week, for carjacking. But Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Toni Fay had other ideas.

Asking Circuit Court Judge Stanley Klein to put him away for "years," she told him exactly what kind of person Garnett is. And in the end, Klein sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

"Mr. Garnett is the example of any woman's nightmare," said Fay. "He is the reason why people can't go to a gas station and pump gas by themselves at night, and the reason why they don't feel safe walking [alone] at night in the community. He's a career criminal and an evil and dangerous person."

The crime occurred June 7, around 6:15 p.m., when Garnett — then 34 and of no fixed address — went to the Mobil gas station off Willard Road, near the Dulles Expo Center. There, he tried to carjack a vehicle belonging to a 29-year-old woman there, but failed.

However, determined not to leave empty-handed, he then approached a 35-year-old woman at the gas pumps and, this time, he was able to get inside her car and drive away. But he didn't get far. Instead — under pursuit from a third woman in her own car — he drove the victim's vehicle to a construction site near the expo center and went smack into a wall.

HE LEFT THE CAR AND FLED on foot, a short distance, before police closed in and apprehended him. An officer en route to the gas station saw Garnett running from the scene and went after him. He was then taken to the Adult Detention Center and charged with carjacking and attempted carjacking.

Garnett was indicted by the grand jury on Aug. 19 and pleaded guilty, Oct. 28, in Fairfax County Circuit Court. He returned Friday for sentencing, and Fay provided further details about his crime.

"Three women are at the Mobil station, minding their own business, when he walks up to the first woman and says he has a gun and, if she screams, he'll use it," said Fay. "She goes into the building, comes back and locks herself in her car. That's scary enough."

Then, said Fay, Garnett asked another woman there for a dollar, and she gave him one. "She then becomes a victim of a crime," said Fay. "He says he just saw [her car], asked the woman for her keys, and she said, 'OK, baby.'" But in reality, said the prosecutor, "He [tells her], 'I'm serious — I have a gun. Give me your keys,' and he takes her car."

She noted that his probation officer described him as a "serious threat to the community" and said his criminal record began when he was a juvenile. Garnett was convicted of assault, assault with intent to commit robbery, assault on a corrections officer and now carjacking.

"Mr. Garnett is dangerous because he's only gotten worse," said Fay. "He never said, 'I'm really sorry about this.' His position is: 'I didn't do this — these women are gonna come to court and lie.'" But she said he's taken from his carjacking victim something she can't get back — her security.

"I'VE GOT TO GO TO THE MOBIL STATION, the Giant [food store]," said Fay. "All the women in this community have to go on with their lives. [But] Mr. Garnett has given no indication that he feels he's done anything wrong or is going to be rehabilitated."

Addressing Judge Klein, she said: "I'm asking you to put him away for years. I'm asking you to protect society — me, and somebody's mother, wife, sister."

Defense attorney Vanessa Antoun, however, said Garnett does admit his crime and takes responsibility for it. Although, she added, "He doesn't remember a lot about this offense — he was on drugs and was drunk. He has a serious, substance-abuse problem."

In addition, said Antoun, "Garnett has mental-health issues — depression and anxiety — plus psychotic issues. He hears voices, and he's taking medication for that." She said it could also explain "why he thought there was a conspiracy against him — that the women were lying. "

Antoun said her client had no intention of harming or frightening anyone — he just wanted to steal a car and was at the gas station asking for money. "He did ask several people for their car keys, and they told him 'no,'" she said. "He didn't do it in a violent manner. He's not as ominous a person as the Commonwealth makes him out to be."

After the stolen car crashed, she said, no weapon was found on Garnett or in the car. Although sentencing guidelines in his case ranged from 12 1/2 to nearly 20 years in prison, she asked Klein to sentence him in the six-year range. "He's been incarcerated before and has a record — that's why his guidelines are so high," she explained. "He's not blameless, but please consider all the circumstances."

Antoun said Garnett has gone to substance-abuse orientation classes, is taking his medicine and is trying to help himself. She said he deserves punishment, but also a chance for rehabilitation and treatment. "He's not a lost cause," she said, adding that a lesser sentence would still "keep him out of circulation for a [long] time."

Garnett then stood and read a letter he wrote. "I apologize to the victims; I was wrong and I ask your forgiveness," he said. "I was not in my right frame of mind, and this never should have happened. I shouldn't have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs." He also asked his two daughters and his fiance — "whom I plan to marry when this is behind me" — to forgive him.

"GIVE ME A CHANCE TO PROVE I'm not a bad man," he said. "I just did a bad thing, and I'm ready to make amends. I was supposed to be taking medication at the time, but I substituted something else for that — crack and beer. Carjacking is not really my thing."

Judge Klein noted Garnett's guilty plea so the victims wouldn't have to testify in court. But he told him, "This isn't your first brush with the law. You've been committing violent crimes since 1985, when you were a juvenile. Nobody — woman or man — should have to worry about walking on the streets and being threatened by someone who might take their lives."

He then sentenced Garnett to nine years in prison for carjacking and six years for attempted carjacking. He ran the sentences consecutively for 15 years total and placed Garnett on three years probation upon his release.