By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An Ivory Coast immigrant deserves a new sentence in a series of Milwaukee robberies because the judge improperly drew conclusions about his character based on violence in his home country, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.
According to court documents, Mamadou Bamba came to the United States in 2008. He had no criminal record until November 2012, when he spent a night approaching women with a knife and demanding money or cellphones. He was arrested that same night and told officers he intended to resell the stolen phones because he needed rent money.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Dennis Moroney sentenced him to 11 years in prison in January 2013. Bamba filed a psychological report ahead of the sentencing that said he was traumatized by violence in Ivory Coast. He told the judge during the sentencing hearing that rebels killed a member of his family and described how he was kidnapped, beaten and stabbed. He also described fleeing through the jungle before he eventually escaped to the United States.
Moroney told Bamba he didn’t care where he came from, saying he had no right to threaten others and he should understand how it feels to be a victim.
“And understand your experiences may certainly have given you some reason to think that, OK, if you want something you just go out and steal it or take it or intimidate others to get it, we operate under the rule of law,” Moroney said. “So you should have learned, if nothing else, from the negative experience you had over there that that’s no way to treat people over here.”
Bamba, now 31, argued on appeal that Moroney made unsupported assumptions about how his life in Ivory Coast affected his character.
The 1st District Court of Appeals agreed. The court said nothing indicates he committed the robberies because that’s what people do in Ivory Coast and nothing supports Moroney’s implied conclusion that Bamba brought a predatory mindset he developed in his homeland to the United States.
The court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Bamba in front of a different judge.
“Although we are confident that the circuit court’s remarks were not motivated by malice, they appear to reflect conclusions based on a preconceived stereotype …” the court’s opinion said. “We must conclude that the sentences rest on an unreasonable and unjustifiable basis.”
A spokeswoman for the state Justice Department, which defended Bamba’s original sentence, said the agency is considering asking the state Supreme Court to take the case. Follow @trichmond1