Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan S. Kirk maintains the 262-to-327-month, guidelines-range sentence is insufficient punishment for Josh Small, a West Virginia man who kidnapped and robbed senior citizens in Jefferson and other East Tennessee counties, according to court documents.
Kirk wants U.S. District Judge Pamela L. Reeves to sentence Small, who is in his early 50s, to life. The federal prosecutor is advocating a 30-year federal prison term for his accomplice, Joni Johnson, who is in her mid-30s. It’s not clear when Small and Johnson will appear in U.S. District Court in Knoxville for sentencing.
Following a three day trial in July, Small and Johnson were found guilty of kidnapping and aiding and abetting kidnapping. The offenses for which they were found guilty occurred in the Rocky Top community of Anderson County, but they committed five other identical crimes in Jefferson County and Tazewell and Russell counties in Virginia, according to law enforcement officials.
Small’s numerous prior convictions include second-degree murder for shooting a man to death in 1995. He was found not guilty of murder the previous year in a case in which a man was beaten to death with a pipe wrench.
Small’s attorney, Michael B. Menefee, indicated in the defense sentencing memorandum that his client was “born and raised a gypsy” and like most of his extended family “grew up traveling the Southeast looking for work.”
After identifying senior citizens who had valuable property and would be easy marks, Small and Johnson returned to East Tennessee in July 2017 to clean up.
“The facts and circumstances of this case, the criminal history of the defendant and the characteristics and history of the defendant warrant an upward variance,” Kirk wrote in the prosecution sentencing memorandum. “(Small) targeted some of the most vulnerable of our society, the elderly.
“The defendant specifically chose elderly victims, those he knew could not resist, could no defend themselves or their homes,” the memo further states. “The defendant needlessly and loathsomely attacked his victims, causing severe pain, suffering and heartache for the victims and their families. The defendant’s actions were cruel and heinous.”
For all that his matters, Small denies he committed the crimes and plans to appeal his convictions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio, according to his defense attorney. Small and Johnson were identified as suspects after they pawned property stolen in the home robberies in West Virginia, according to the federal prosecutor.
While Small’s attorney concedes the crimes for which his client were convicted are serious, he maintains that the fact set is “certainly unusual.”
“Federal kidnapping normally arises out of a victim being held against their will, transported across state lines and held for ransom or reward,” the defense sentencing memo states. “The facts of this case are more akin to robbery or aggravated robbery than federal kidnapping, crimes that would carry significantly lesser sentences that the defendants currently case.