Peterpal Tut Lam, a Junubi residing in America facing sentencing for kidnapping and relentlessly assaulting two strangers in Antioch nearly four years ago, called heaven as his witness, denied responsibility and asked a judge for mercy.
Nashville Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Blackburn decided he deserved no mercy. She dismissed defense arguments that Tutlam’s upbringing in South Sudan contributed to his actions.
So she gave him the maximum possible sentence during a hearing Wednesday: 150 years in prison.
A jury found Tutlam, 31, guilty of two counts each of especially aggravated kidnapping, especially aggravated robbery and aggravated rape on Jan. 8.
According to testimony during trial, Tutlam and three friends approached two strangers at an apartment complex and forced them into a car. They then drove to nearby ATMs and withdrew cash with the victims’ cards, repeatedly punching and stabbing the two male victims along the way. The kidnappers forced the victims to give each other oral sex. After about 45 minutes of what the victims described as humiliation and torture in the Saturn sedan, the attackers took their clothes and turned them out in a street.
For that, assistant district attorneys Doug Thurman and Megan King argued for consecutive sentences and the longest prison term. They noted Tutlam had 23 misdemeanor convictions, showed no remorse for the crime and made calls to jail to try and cover up his involvement. The victims testified they had nightmares for months, the attack ended one relationship and led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Blackburn agreed with the state, saying that Tutlam also fled after the attack, making him a risk to the public.
Two others who were charged in the case, Duol Wal, 25, and Tut Tut, 19, have previously pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to 30 years prison. The fourth man, Yangreek Wal, 23, is scheduled to be sentenced March 9.
Tutlam and his attorney, David Harris, tried to lay part of the blame for the attack on alcohol and Tutlam’s upbringing in South Sudan. Tutlam’s pastor, a cousin and his sister all testified during sentencing about conditions in the war-torn region and said it has continuing impact on them and others in their community.
Tutlam said he had no stable place to stay in South Sudan, and his family sometimes ran out of food and water.
“I seen people getting killed, people starving to death, sometimes rebels raided villages telling everybody they’d kill all the men,” he testified. He came to the U.S. when he was in his early teens, he said.
Blackburn called that experience tragic, but noted that most others who come to the United States do not commit such violent acts.
Tutlam told the judge he was drunk during the kidnapping and was not aware of what was happening. He read a letter to the victims, who were in court but did not testify.
“I call heaven as my witness. I am truly sorry for the heinous crimes you were forced to endure on March 17, 2012,” he said. He later continued:
“I truly was intoxicated and incoherent when these crimes occurred and I was not a party to them. I stand before you and the court and God and declare that I am an innocent man.”
Tutlam said he turned to alcohol in about 2008 to deal with personal issues. His sister, Nyater Tutlam, said her brother was kind and generous and even when drinking did not typically become violent. She said her family once before tried to intervene in Tutlam’s downward spiral.
“We said we came here to get a better life, not to waste the life,” she recalled telling him.