New gun law adds 10 years to sentence
It was all over a $40 debt. Peter Cunningham and two other men became robbers in the name of that $40. On Thursday, Cunningham faced the consequences.
He was sentenced to 14 years in a California state prison for one count of first-degree robbery, and for possession of stolen property. Cunningham, 23, only got four years for the robbery. It was the fact that he brought a gun that put him away for the extra 10.
Cunningham fell under California’s “10-20-Life” law that went into effect in 1998. The law requires longer prison sentences for criminals who use a firearm in the commission of a specified felony. It imposes an additional 10 years for carrying a gun, and the firearm need not be loaded or operable; 20 years for firing the weapon; and 25 years to life in prison for discharging the gun and causing great bodily injury while committing a serious or violent felony.
Cunningham went to trial for his part in the Sept. 20 home invasion robbery in the Sierra Tract Dec. 21. The jury found him guilty of both counts.
Eric Thor Bollenbeck, 28, one of Cunningham’s accomplices, plead guilty to residential robbery before going to trial. He is still awaiting sentencing.
Investigators said that Bollenbeck, Cunningham, and another man, who is still at large, knocked on the door of the Knox Avenue residence and demanded money from the home’s 18-year-old occupant. The men claimed the 18-year-old owed one of their relatives $40. When the teen tried to shut the door they forced their way inside. Cunningham was armed with a handgun, and the man still at large had a staple gun, witnesses said. The 18-year-old escaped through a back door and called police, while the robbers menaced his 18-year-old girlfriend, their baby, and a 16-year-old boy still inside the house. Before police arrived the robbers fled with a VCR. The VCR was recovered from Cunningham’s residence.
Before his sentencing, Cunningham said he was unaware of the 10-year gun enhancement.
“I’d like to say I screwed up, everybody makes mistakes, but I’m not a violent person. I’m sorry for what I did,” Cunningham told the court. “Sure wish I’d known about this 10 years with the gun. I wouldn’t have gone to trial.”
El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Jerald Lasarow told Cunningham that he was informed about the possible sentence he was facing if convicted before going to trial.
If he had pea bargained, Cunningham’s maximum sentence would have been seven years.
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