Lehigh Valley

Judge rejects request for shorter sentence in hit-and-run case

Royce Atkins could serve up to 10 years in prison

EASTON, Pa. - A Northampton County judge has refused to reconsider the prison term for the 23-year-old who cursed the family of the boy he killed in the hit-and-run crash and the judge who presided over his trial.

Northampton County Judge Michael Koury Jr. sentenced Royce Atkins in March to 4 to 10 years in state prison for the November 2015 hit-and-run death of Darious Condash. Defense attorney Phil Lauer, who represented Atkins during the sentencing portion of his case, appealed the ruling a few weeks later.

Atkins had faced a mandatory sentence of 3 to 6 years in prison. But prosecutors asked that a series of inflammatory phone calls he made from Northampton County Prison be considered an aggravating circumstance.

Lauer argued in his appeal that Koury’s sentence was “extremely lengthy” and “manifestly unreasonable.” He also argued the judge was improperly swayed by the comments his client made in recorded phone conversations with his girlfriend and father from jail.

The defense argued that the judge should have recused himself from sentencing after the district attorney’s office introduced recordings that included Atkins referring to the judge as, among other insults, a scumbag.

In his ruling filed late Monday afternoon, Koury wrote that Atkins and his attorney were aware of the recorded conversations on Feb. 21 and did not ask the court to recuse itself before sentencing.

Prosecutors had argued the judge was well within his rights to consider inflammatory prison phone calls when exceeding Atkins’ mandatory sentence. Lauer told the court during the sentencing and in his appeal that the judge shouldn’t have put too much weight on Atkins’ comments during the phone calls because they were made in anger.

The judge noted during sentencing that comments made in anger often lend true insight to a person’s feelings. Koury lamented that the comments Atkins made showed a complete lack of remorse for the victim's family.

Koury included in his order transcripts of the phone calls. On Jan. 6, Atkins told his girlfriend that the case was “being blown out of proportion” and that Condash’s family was “acting like they’re the (expletive) victims.”

“Like, what about my family? My family are the (expletive) victims, too,” Atkins said.

He was heard in one phone call asking whether members of the victim's family had jobs because they kept showing up for every court hearing.

"I literally have absolutely no remorse for them whatsoever anymore," Atkins said. "It makes me (expletive) sick."

Koury noted that the defense made no request for the judge to recuse himself even after the recorded prison conversations were read into the record. The judge cited a court case that ruled a plaintiff waives his right to have a judge disqualified once a verdict or judgment is entered.

Koury denied Atkins’ request for a hearing on the recusal issue. He now has the right to file an appeal to Koury’s decision  to the state Superior Court within 30 days.

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