Judge Gavel on a wooden background, Law library concept.

A 51-year-old convicted Baton Rouge bank robber asked the same state judge who sentenced him in 1997 to life in prison to give him a chance to "go home" on Thursday.

But a female teller who Torris Ross held up at gunpoint said in a written statement that she is haunted to this day and urged District Judge Richard Anderson not to allow Ross "back on our streets."

After listening to an apologetic Ross, his attorney, his mother, prosecutor Kathleen Barrios and the victim statement, Anderson granted Ross's motion to reduce his jail time. He said he would announce the new sentence March 4.

Anderson cited a January 2018 Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that said district judges could reduce the prison time for numerous inmates who received life or decadeslong sentences under harsh drug and habitual offender laws from the 1990s.

"I have noticed a change (in Ross) since 1997," Anderson stated. "I thought I knew what I was going to do when I came in here today. Now i'm not so sure."

Ross was convicted of robbing the City National Bank on Government Street with two other men on June 28, 1996. Ross faces a minimum sentence of 66 years in prison, but his lawyer, Karl Ludwig, noted that Ross has already served nearly half his life in prison and does not need to be "in a cage the rest of his life."

"He's paid a large debt to society," Ludwig said, asking the judge to reduce the 66-year minimum term.

The teller, in whose face and back Ross stuck a gun, feels Ross hasn't paid enough.

"Do I think Torris Ross deserves to be given less time? NO! I DO NOT! He had at least 3 chances to change," she wrote. "Do I think he deserves to serve the rest of his life sentence? YES! I DO! Without our consent, Torris Ross handed down to me and everyone else in that bank A LIFE SENTENCE! A life sentence of Fear, Anger and Anxiety.”

The Supreme Court's 2018 decision has already led to release or shorter sentences for dozens of people convicted under old drug and habitual offender laws.

Ross will be the second in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The first, 58-year-old Anthony Thomas, was released from prison in December after state District Judge Beau Higginbotham resentenced him to 12 years in prison for unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling. Thomas had previously been sentenced to life in prison in the late 1990s as a habitual offender. He had prior convictions for armed robbery, attempted manslaughter and unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling when he was convicted again of unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling.

The 2018 case decided by the Supreme Court bears the name of Avondale native John Esteen, who was sentenced in 2000 to 150 years in prison on cocaine and racketeering charges. He was resentenced to 100 years in March 2018, then paroled a year later after serving nearly two decades behind bars.

The state's original "three strikes" law took effect in January 1997 and required one of the three convictions to be a crime of violence or a drug offense.

In 2001, the Louisiana Legislature reduced penalties for certain drug crimes and habitual offenders. Five years later state lawmakers took steps to apply the more lenient penalties to prisoners convicted under the old laws, but the new law's language left its actual implementation open to interpretation.

Later in 2006 the state Supreme Court said it would be up to a Risk Review Panel, a body that acted like the Parole Board, to impose lighter sentences. Then, in 2018, the high court said it would be up to district judges to apply the lighter sentences from the 2001 reforms.

In the City National Bank case, Ross 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, during which about $3,500 was taken.

The robbers hopped into a car after the robbery but a dye pack exploded. Police recovered most of the money when the men jumped from the car and ran.

Ross' mother, Gloria Ross Heard, testified Thursday that her son no longer has the anger issues he once had.

"He's a different person now," she said.

Torris Ross said it hurts knowing how much pain those in the bank suffered that day.

"I know it was wrong. I apologize. I did a lot of bad things in life," he said.

Under the current habitual offender law, 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.

Editor's note: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated the sentence originally given to Torris Ross. It was life in prison, not 66 years in prison. 

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