Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett wondered aloud whether 19-year-old sisters Markita and Marquita King have consciences before imposing the prison terms at the end of an emotional sentencing hearing in which the twins' mother, grandmother and other family asked him to be lenient.
Scarlett said in his 10 years on the bench, few crimes have been so disturbing as the attack on patient Robert Johns and his wife, Keri, of Folkston. The Johnses were staying at Karen's House of Hope, a FaithWorks ministry house for cancer patients near Southeast Georgia Health System's Brunswick hospital.
"Other than a child victim, I don't know of anything worse than preying on someone in a wheelchair. This is a very troubling case," Scarlett said.
The sisters attacked the couple as Keri Johns pushed her husband in his wheelchair along Parkwood Drive near the hospital and its Cancer Care Center shortly after 11 a.m. on May 19.
Attempting to rob him, the twins pulled Johns out of his wheelchair onto the street and struck him. One sister punched Keri Johns in the face as she tried to protect her husband and struggled to keep them from stealing his small duffle bag, which contained all his medication and all their possessions, police have said.
Glynn County sheriff's deputy Michael Heath was driving to assist another deputy when he saw the attack and stopped it, Sheriff's Office officials have said.
The sisters each pleaded guilty to two counts of felony aggravated assault on Oct. 1 in a plea agreement calling for prosecutors to dismiss two misdemeanor counts in the case.
On Friday, Scarlett noted testimony that the twins were out on street at age 5, often slept in urine and filth while living in a series of squalid rat- and roach-infested temporary homes during their childhood because of their mother's past problems.
"We can agree they had a difficult childhood, but I think they know right from wrong," said Scarlett, who cited the sisters' history of misdemeanors as juveniles.
Before being sentenced, the sisters read aloud similar statements apologizing to their victims and the court. Each said they regretted what they did.
"I am truly sorry and regret the events that transpired that led up to the charges against me. On the day of the incident it was never my intent to cause any harm," Marquita King said.
Markita said "I want to express my extreme shame and embarrassment ...Every day, I pray for God's forgiveness."
Before the hearing began, the sisters laughed with each other at the defense table in matching jail clothing. They also smiled and waved at family members and other supporters seated in the audience.
Their lawyers asked Scarlett to sentence the twins to probation. They said Markita King is the mother of one child and Marquita King the mother of two.
Neither Johns nor his wife attended the sentencing. A probation officer who prepared the pre-sentencing investigation in the case, told Scarlett he was unable to locate the couple.
Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Miller told Scarlett that the victims' home had burned down in October and that they had moved.
Miller asked Scarlett to sentence the twins to at least seven years in prison.
"Here was a cancer patient in a wheelchair and he was beaten. There is no excuse for that. No excuse," Miller said.
Scarlett imposed 10-year prison terms on each felony count for both sisters. The sentences will run concurrently to each other. They then will be on probation for 10 years.
The twins' mother, Paula Higginbotham, screamed "No. Jesus" before breaking into sobs as Scarlett pronounced the sentence. The sister's grandmother, Joyce Williams, also wept.
The sisters yelled "I love you, Mama" and "I love you all" as bailiffs led them from the courtroom to be taken back to the Glynn County Detention Center.