Problem inmate resentenced to state prison

A troublesome state-prison inmate was resentenced Wednesday after a hearing in which a county judge openly expressed the difficulty of his decision.

“Part of me thinks this is counterproductive,” said Judge Marc F. Lovecchio, who sentenced Dawn M. Ball, 44, to nine to 18 months state prison, and three years probation on charges of aggravated assault by a prisoner, simple assault and harassment.

Lovecchio visibly struggled with the sentencing, citing evidence that further incarceration would not improve Ball’s behavior. She suffers from anti-social personality disorder and the State Correctional Institution at Muncy does not have the resources to adequately treat her, according to Lovecchio.

“But I have to follow the sentencing guidelines,” Lovecchio said. “And I can’t risk other inmates taking advantage of this,” referencing a concern from the district attorney’s office that a light sentence would inspire other inmates to follow Ball’s lead.

“I wish there was another place I could send you, some sort of therapeutic institution that would give you what you need,” Lovecchio told Ball. “But I don’t have that place to send you to.”

Ball’s bad behavior in prison has been a constant problem for the court system and state correctional officers. Lovecchio said she’s been in solitary confinement for the last seven-and-a-half years, and she will return there. On Wednesday, five sheriff’s deputies were present in the courtroom along with three state correctional officers.

Ball was convicted in September of 2012 for spitting on a correctional officer in 2009 and throwing a liquid substance out her cell door a week later, striking the officer in the face. Lovecchio called the substance “some sort of urine concoction.”

Ball initially was sentenced to 21 to 42 months state prison by Lovecchio on April 29 for those offenses. The sentence was set to run concurrently with the prison sentence she already was serving: one to eight years for forgery, set to expire in August.

In the wake of Lovecchio’s April decision, the district attorney’s office filed a motion to reconsider, claiming that it is illegal for a judge to make a sentence retroactive to an unrelated charge and that if Ball was released from prison in August, it would send “the wrong message to Ball and other inmates that they can assault prison staff with impunity.”

The hearing Wednesday was the second hearing after Assistant District Attorney Martin Wade filed the motion. In late May, a hearing was held to address the reconsideration, but Lovecchio wanted more time to make his decision.

With the new reduced sentence, Lovecchio granted only part of Wade’s motion, conceding the illegality of his initial retroactive sentencing, but not granting Wade’s request for a more severe sentence.

Lovecchio said such a sentence will not do any good.

“Where does this end?” he asked. “I understand you have to increase the punishment if someone keeps acting out. But it doesn’t work in this situation.”

Ball was brought to tears by Lovecchio’s decision, which is effective April 29 – the day of her initial sentencing – with credit for time served.

Ball had asked Lovecchio to sentence her to probation only.

At the hearing’s start, Lovecchio read excerpts from letters Ball had written to him, expressing her concerns about staying incarcerated at the Muncy facility.

In her letters, Ball wrote that it is “impossible to be good at Muncy,” that she is “deteriorating mentally and physically,” and that her “mind can no longer handle this place.”

When Lovecchio gave her decision, Ball said she needs to be home to take care of her daughter.

“My daughter is going to kill herself because she’s a heroin addict,” she said.