Connecticut mother of 4 facing prison pleads for leniency

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A mother of four is pleading with Connecticut officials for leniency as she faces a five-year prison sentence for stabbing another woman who survived — an act she insists was self-defense, but which prosecutors and a jury called a premeditated assault.

Latasha O'Bryan, of New Haven, said her four boys, ages 2 to 15, will end up in state foster care if she goes to prison because none of her relatives is able to care for them. The family currently is living in a homeless shelter as O'Bryan tries to get an apartment, after giving up their place in her parents' home for ailing relatives.

Her public defender, Neal Cone, asked the state parole board for clemency in October, after the state Supreme Court rejected her appeal of her convictions. He asked Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office for a reprieve of the prison sentence last month. She is also petitioning state Superior Court for a new trial. No decisions have been made in any of those actions.

A status conference in the trial court in New Haven is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Although she was sentenced in 2012, she has been free on bail pending her appeals.

"It scares me and it worries me," O'Bryan said Tuesday, referring to the prospect of going to prison and leaving her family behind. "I'm not a threat to society at all and I'm an excellent citizen. I have not been in trouble before this and I have not been in trouble after."

Parole board officials didn't return messages Tuesday. A spokesman for the governor declined to comment. The parole board voted last month to continue her clemency case to a date to be determined.

O'Bryan, a 34-year-old home health care aide, was convicted by a New Haven Superior Court jury of attempted first-degree assault and second-degree assault in April 2012. She was sentenced to the mandatory minimum five-year prison term required by the attempted first-degree assault law.

Prosecutors said O'Bryan plunged a knife more than 3 inches into Lawanda McCrae Murdock's chest on Memorial Day in 2010, just missing vital organs. The two women had been in a feud that included a spat over a man, Cone said.

O'Bryan testified that Murdock came at her with a knife and she was forced to defend herself.

Prosecutors said the two women agreed to fight that day. Before the fight, prosecutors said, O'Bryan left the scene and returned, giving her an opportunity for planning and getting a weapon.

O'Bryan at the time had no criminal record, while Murdock had a lengthy criminal history that included more than 40 convictions for larceny, writing bad checks and other crimes. Only weeks after being stabbed, Murdock was charged with leading police on car chases with five children in her car.

Judge Sheridan Moore said she found O'Bryan credible, but noted it is difficult to succeed with Connecticut's complicated self-defense law, according to court transcripts. The judge said she had no choice under the law but to impose the mandatory minimum prison sentence.

Cone, O'Bryan's public defender, called the sentence unfair and said O'Bryan would be a good candidate for probation or other community release programs.

Cone said that under other parts of the attempted first-degree assault law, "If you tried to gouge out an eye or cut off a limb, there wouldn't be a five-year minimum mandatory."

Although O'Bryan is worried about her future, she is optimistic about getting leniency.

"I'm hopeful and I have faith," she said. "I have a lot of faith."

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