Girl, 16, sentenced to state prison for brick-bash attack
While Zaria Estes young age suggested she was prime for rehabilitation, a judge instead said a tough sentence was needed to deter further crimes.
To her family, 16-year-old Zaria Estes is a "considerate and caring" girl who likes tuna fish and dancing and doesn't always keep her room clean.
But to Abbey Luffey's family, Estes is the cold and calculating monster who attacked Luffey, a Temple University student, last March as Luffey walked with her boyfriend on the edge of campus. As she and her friends hunted prey for their sadistic game of "knock a bitch down," Estes bashed Luffey in the face with a brick, leaving her with a broken jaw, palate and teeth - and a shattered sense of security.
Such dueling views of Estes prompted Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Erdos to acknowledge Wednesday the "difficult and delicate" balance required in deciding what punishment Estes should face for the unprovoked March 21 attack at 17th and Norris streets.
After a three-hour hearing, Erdos ordered Estes to serve two-and-a-half to six years in a state prison, followed by four years of probation for aggravated assault, conspiracy and possession of an instrument of crime. The sentence fell between the house arrest defense attorney Bill Davis had sought and the five- to 10-year sentence Assistant District Attorney Paul Goldman wanted.
While Erdos agreed Estes' young age invited leniency so she could be rehabilitated, he said the gravity of her "hideous" crime and its impact on both Luffey and the community overall demanded a tough penalty.
"This vicious act has damaged our entire city," Erdos said. "Every time there is a random act of violence, it makes us that much less secure, that much less proud of our City of Brotherly Love."
Davis immediately asked the judge to postpone the sentence until he appealed another judge's earlier decision to keep Estes in adult court. Erdos denied that request.
Two other teens who participated in the attacks - but used fists instead of bricks on their victims - are being tried in Family Court.
Estes sat stone-faced and still throughout the hearing, occasionally wiping tears quietly from her cheeks such as when about a dozen relatives and friends stood to voice their support for her.
She read a letter of apology to Luffey and insisted she's not "a dangerous, cold-hearted teenager."
"I lost my self-control and let my anger get control of me," she said. "I have anger management issues. I am 100 percent willing to get help . . . I am so sorry and I sincerely apologize for my mistake."
The word "mistake" enraged Luffey's mother, who shook and sobbed as she testified about how the assault forever changed her daughter and their family.
She held up a photo of Luffey taken within hours of the attack, showing her daughter's bloodied, toothless mouth beneath wide, shocked eyes.
"I'd like the young girl (Estes) and her parents to see this because I don't think they have any idea what they did. How can anybody . . .?" Heather Luffey said, crying and unable to finish her sentence.
"That's my baby!" she soon continued. "That is my daughter! It's my job as a mother to protect my child! How would you feel if someone did that to you? . . . That's not a mistake. A mistake is an accident. This was a cold, premeditated act."
Abbey Luffey said she underwent several surgeries - and could face more, as her doctors said the trauma likely harmed her long-term dental health. Worse, though, is the persistent fear that has plagued her since her encounter with Estes, she said.
"I do not feel comfortable anywhere other than my house," she said, crying. "I feel as though anyone on the street is trying to attack me. (Because of such paranoia,) I consider myself a burden now on everyone around me."