Tammy Washington was the mother of six, a woman who moved to Schenectady from Florida to be with family, a woman who had a “familiar Southern twang,” her family wrote.
The letter was read Wednesday at the sentencing of the man who admitting to killing her a year ago on Clinton Street after an argument.
“Without saying, we miss Tammy dearly,” the family said in the letter read in court by prosecutor Philip Mueller. “We hope as you read and hear this, it leaves a warm feeling in your hearts and a smile to your face. That’s what Tammy made us feel.”
As Mueller read, Washington’s cousin, Rose Walker, dabbed her eyes in the courtroom gallery.
Mueller read the family’s statement at the sentencing of Perry L. Miller for killing the 43-year-old woman.
Miller, 34, pleaded guilty in May to first-degree manslaughter, admitting to causing Washington’s death during a heated argument when he stabbed her twice in the street. In exchange for his plea, Miller agreed to 20 years in prison.
Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago imposed that sentence Wednesday, calling Miller “a very violent man.” She cited a criminal history that includes prior convictions for a 2009 Schenectady stabbing and two other felonies.
The judge also said it’s apparent Miller has extensive anger-control issues. Yes, there was an altercation that started the incident, but Miller could have walked away, she said. He instead introduced the knife.
“Based upon what’s presented to me and your actions in this community, this is how you do business, so to speak,” Drago told Miller. “If you feel you’re wronged, it’s basically game on, for lack of a better way to describe it.
“It’s behavior that’s troubling to the court and a danger to the community. You need to be locked up.”
The incident began Jan. 30, 2012, when Washington, Miller and a woman with Miller, Sonya Hall, got into an argument at the Salvation Army on Lafayette Street during that morning’s breakfast program. When they refused to stop arguing, staff asked them to leave. Mueller characterized the argument as petty, involving jealousy. He credited program workers with preventing the scene from escalating inside the building.
Program workers tried to mediate the argument outside, but it continued off Salvation Army property. Miller and Hall walked away, and Washington followed.
Washington is believed to have known either Miller or Hall had a knife. Hall was seen by Salvation Army workers with a knife outside their building, Mueller has said. Knowing that, Washington awkwardly armed herself by picking up a 4-foot parking sign pole from a nearby lot.
Once Washington caught up to the pair on Clinton Street, holding the pole, the argument continued. Washington even weakly swung the pole at Miller twice. The second time, she grazed his arm, not injuring him through his coat.
Miller then punched Washington. She either lost control of the pole, or threw it down. Miller then stabbed her twice and left. He and Hall were arrested soon after.
Hall pleaded guilty in May to a weapons count in return for a sentence of 11⁄2 to 41⁄2 years in prison.
She is to be sentenced Friday. However, whether the agreed-on sentence will still be imposed was unclear because as part of Miller’s sentencing Wednesday, Mueller read portions of letters between Miller and Hall, in which Hall told Miller she wouldn’t testify against him, a key component to her plea deal.
That became an issue because Miller last summer tried to take back his guilty plea, a motion Drago later denied.
In court Wednesday, Miller was defiant early on, apparently still believing he could get his plea back and take the case to trial. He expressed his frustration by uttering two expletives. Drago immediately called a halt to the proceedings and sent Miller back to a court holding cell.
After learning of and gaining access to the letters, Mueller argued Miller’s move to take back his plea was based on that and a woefully inaccurate understanding of the plea process — specifically, the rule that a defendant can withdraw a guilty plea only if the judge decides to exceed the agreed upon sentence.
After learning of and gaining access to the letters, Mueller argued that Miller’s move to take back his plea was based on that, and on his misunderstanding of the circumstances under which a defendant could take back a guilty plea — a scenario not offered to him.
In her own comments Wednesday, Drago said given what happened, the 20 years Miller received was a gift.
Miller was represented in court Wednesday by attorney Steve Kouray.