Judge Gavel on a wooden background, Law library concept.

A convicted Baton Rouge bank robber who had served 24 years of a life prison term given to him as a habitual offender was resentenced Tuesday to 66 years behind bars.

State District Judge Richard Anderson, who has presided over the case of Torris Ross since its inception in 1996, acknowledged that the 51-year-old man has "taken some steps to better himself" while incarcerated.

But the judge said he could not ignore Ross' prior criminal history or the lasting impacts of the bank heist on a female teller who wrote a powerful letter to the court.

The teller, whom Ross held up at gunpoint, stated that she is serving a "life sentence of Fear, Anger and Anxiety" and asked that Ross not be allowed "back on our streets."

Ross' attorney, Karl Ludwig, said his client will likely serve another 20 to 25 years in prison as a result of his new sentence. Anderson gave Ross credit for the time he has been jailed to date on the 1996 robbery of the City National Bank on Government Street.

Ross previously appeared before Anderson on Jan. 30 and asked for the chance to "go home" at some point. Ross apologized for his actions back on June 28, 1996.

The judge's resentencing of Ross was made possible by a 2018 Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that gave district judges the ability to reduce the prison time for numerous inmates who received life or decadeslong sentences under harsh drug and habitual offender laws from the 1990s.

The high court's decision has already led to release or shorter sentences for dozens of people convicted under old drug and habitual offender laws. Ross is the second to be resentenced in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Prosecutors recently withdrew their objection to Ross' motion to correct an illegal sentence after higher courts ruled in favor of Anthony Thomas, 58, the first person to be resentenced in East Baton Rouge. Thomas was set free in December after state District Judge Beau Higginbotham resentenced him to 12 years in prison for unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling. He had previously been sentenced to life in the late 1990s as a habitual offender. His prior convictions were for armed robbery, attempted manslaughter and unauthorized entry.

Ross was first sentenced by Anderson in September 1997 under the state's original "three strikes" law, which took effect in January of that year and required one of the three convictions to be a crime of violence or a drug offense.

Ross' convictions that preceded his armed robbery conviction were for aggravated battery, which is a crime of violence, and unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling.

In 2001, the Louisiana Legislature reduced penalties for certain drug crimes and habitual offenders. Ludwig said Ross was resentenced Tuesday under that law change. It called for Ross to be sentenced again to no less than two-thirds of the longest possible term for armed robbery and not more than two times the longest sentence for that crime.

Because armed robbery carries a prison term of 10 to 99 years, Anderson said, Ross faced a new sentence of 66 to 198 years. Ludwig had argued that 66 years is an excessive amount of prison time.

Anderson reflected Tuesday on the inmate he sentenced to life in 1997 and who now sat before him and said, "I don't think he's the same person." The judge, however, said he had to take into account Ross' criminal history, and the female teller's victim impact statement.

After court, Ludwig called Anderson and smart and thoughtful judge and said Ross understands his ruling.

Also after court, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said, "We are glad the judge recognized the violent nature of this defendant’s crime and didn’t deviate below the mandatory minimum set by law.” 

Under the current habitual offender law, which was adopted in 2017, a third offender is subject to a life sentence only if the third offense and the two prior felonies are crimes of violence or sex crimes against children, or a combination of both.

If that doesn't apply, the third offender is to be sentenced to no less than half of the longest possible sentence for the crime committed and not more than two times the longest sentence.

Ross was found guilty of robbing the City National Bank with two other men. He and co-defendant Lester Desmoulin were convicted of armed robbery and as felons with firearms. Ross also was found guilty of attempted armed robbery for trying to steal a truck after fleeing the bank.

Desmoulin, 52, also of Baton Rouge, is still serving the life sentence he received from Anderson in the case as a career criminal. He had prior convictions for kidnapping and burglary.

Police never arrested the third man involved in the heist. About $3,500 was taken.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.