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Youthful offender status granted in Royalton burglary

A woman whose second attempt to burglarize her stepfather's Royalton home ended in a hail of bullets was granted youthful offender status and placed on probation Thursday by Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza.

The 19-year-old was released from jail Thursday and said she will live with her biological father in Niagara Falls.

Sperrazza issued an order of protection barring the woman, who was 18 at the time of her crime, from having any contact with her mother or her stepfather, Dennis F. Cherry.

The Buffalo News does not name defendants once they have been granted youthful offender status.

Cherry, tipped off that the burglary attempt was coming Jan. 21, 2010, was waiting in the garage of his Akron Road home with a rifle and fired 15 rounds into the car driven by a Buffalo man who brought the woman to the scene. No one was hurt, and reckless endangerment charges against Cherry initially were adjourned and since dismissed.

In October, when she sentenced the driver -- Anibal R. Cordero, 25 -- Sperrazza had said that she intended to send the woman to state prison.

But Assistant Public Defender Robert Viola dwelled Thursday on what he called the woman's "dysfunctional" childhood as he argued successfully for youthful offender status, which means the felony conviction doesn't count on the young woman's record.

The defendant, who could have been sent to state prison for as long as seven years, said she had improved herself during her eight months in the County Jail.

"I've had a lot of time to think about the mistakes I've made, and they've been big ones," she said as she wept before the judge.

But she said she had earned a high school equivalency diploma in jail and earned enough respect from the guards to be allowed to work as a "trusty" in the jail kitchen and elsewhere.

Sperrazza said the law didn't allow her to assign the woman to the state's boot camplike "shock incarceration" program, which the judge said would have been "the perfect sentence."

"What you need is structure in your life," the judge said.

The official sentence was six months in jail to begin the five-year probation term. But since the woman had been held in jail for about eight months, she was freed at once. She had pleaded guilty Sept. 16 to attempted second-degree burglary.

The woman jumped bail after her original arrest and was extradited from Texas in June.

Cordero pleaded guilty June 18 to a reduced charge of attempted third-degree criminal possession of a weapon -- for having a .357 Magnum handgun that had been stolen from Cherry's home two days before the incident that resulted in the rifle fire.

As a condition of probation, Sperrazza ordered the woman to avoid all contact with Cordero, who was sentenced Oct. 5 to a year in jail. Other conditions included avoiding all alcohol and drugs, obeying a curfew to be set by her probation officer and getting a job or becoming a full-time student within 60 days.

If the 19-year-old violates any terms of probation during the next 4 1/2 years, she could be resentenced to as long as 1 1/3 to four years in state prison, which is the maximum term allowed for a youthful offender.

"This better be the only brush with the law that you ever have," Sperrazza told her.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Scalzo, who prosecuted the case but was unable to attend the sentencing, declined to comment.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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