HOLLIDAYSBURG - An Altoona woman's minimum 16-year prison sentence for her role in a cocaine-selling business has been reduced by a year.
But Natasha Miller can be considered for early release after completing 12 years of the now 15- to 30-year sentence, Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle said Thursday.
Miller, 33, cried as she walked out of the courtroom where she and attorney Joel Peppetti asked Doyle to reduce her sentence to an amount that would allow her to pay her debt and be a mother to her daughters, ages 4 and 14.
"When you talk about 16 years, you're talking about 5,840 days," Peppetti said. "That's 16 birthdays, 16 first days of school, 16 Mother's Days."
That argument didn't sway Doyle, who resentenced Miller as directed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The procedure was prompted by a state Supreme Court ruling, which negated sentencing orders that included mandatory jail time for specific reasons including the weight of the illegal drug.
"Sixteen birthdays, 16 first days," Doyle said repeating Peppetti's argument. "There were more than 16 individuals hurt by the cocaine brought into the community by this individual."
Miller was arrested in 2011 as a major figure in the Operation Last Call drug investigation. The West Drug Task Force broke up the group, which was transporting major amounts of cocaine from Baltimore to Altoona every couple of weeks and processing the drug for street distribution at the Corner Bar and Grill, 1001 Eighth Ave. The distribution effort was led by Damion Floyd of Baltimore, then an inmate at the state prison in Camp Hill. He is now serving 23 to 60 years in prison.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman asked Doyle on Thursday to use the state's sentencing guidelines to impose a prison sentence adding up to the 16 to 32 years originally imposed.
"She was essentially the second in command to her boyfriend," Gorman said, referring to Floyd.
Prosecutors maintained that Miller helped operate the ring based on her communication with Floyd while he was in jail. She pleaded guilty to charges of possession with intent to deliver, participating in a corrupt organization, dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activity and criminal conspiracy.
Miller, who has been in jail since her Nov. 4, 2011, arrest, told the judge Thursday: "I have accepted full responsibility for my actions in breaking the law."
Now an inmate at SCI Cambridge Springs in Crawford County, Miller said she has participated in prison counseling programs, worked in the prison dining room, helped raise money for charities and has no misconduct reports.
She also told the judge she misses her daughters, who live separately with different family members.
She said the four-year-old "doesn't understand why I can't be with her."
Gorman said he agreed with Miller's eligibility for the early release program. If she continues to do well, that's something she can work for, Gorman said.
After the proceeding, Peppetti told Miller's family members and friends that while Doyle reduced the minimum sentence by only one year, she now has the possibility of being released early, something that was not part of the original sentencing order.
Doyle also reiterated some remarks she made in November 2012 at Miller's first sentencing.
She said this case shows the danger and destruction of drugs and how there is more than one way to be addicted to drugs. In court Thursday, the judge referenced a pre-sentence investigation report indicating that Miller found the drug-selling business to be "an easy way" to have enough money to pay bills and to buy clothing for her children.
"If you're tempted by that devil, this is the kind of case you'll find yourself in," Doyle said.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.