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14-Year Term in Beating of Vendor

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 21, 2006; B03

The man who was caught on videotape beating an elderly woman near the Foggy Bottom Metro station was sentenced yesterday to a 14-year prison term by a judge who condemned the "deliberate cruelty and gratuitous violence."

James A. Dorsey, 48, a drifter whose criminal record stretches back to 1979 and includes convictions for burglary, grand larceny and assault with a dangerous weapon, was found guilty in May in D.C. Superior Court. His attorney said that Dorsey has suffered from depression and drug problems.

But prosecutors said that his victim is suffering, too.

"This was a brutal and vicious attack on an especially vulnerable person," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan W. Haray said in his remarks, which Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. echoed during sentencing. "He completely disregarded her entire life."

A surveillance camera captured Dorsey punching and kicking Vasiliki Fotopoulos, a street vendor affectionately known in the Northwest Washington neighborhood as "Grandma," in what a police sergeant called one of the worst beatings he had ever seen on tape. After knocking her to the ground, Dorsey robbed her of about $300, authorities said. The attack took place May 3, 2005, and Dorsey was arrested a few days later, after authorities made the tape public in an appeal for help in solving the crime.

Dorsey, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit and a striped knit cap, did not look at his victim during the court proceeding and did not admit wrongdoing. He pleaded not guilty during his trial.

Fotopoulos's daughter, Theodora Kunec, spoke in court on behalf of her mother, a Greek immigrant who speaks little English. She asked Dixon to consider the long-term effects of the attack, which she said robbed her 84-year-old mother of her mobility and independence.

Fotopoulos's face shows no scars from the attack that broke her cheek and nose, but she relies upon a walker because of cracks in her knee. She used to walk the five blocks from her home to the Foggy Bottom Metro station every day to sell hats, T-shirts and umbrellas, but now she is scared to leave the apartment she has lived in for 20 years. Fotopoulos sat shaking and crying throughout the sentencing.

"She will be in pain every day for the rest of her life because of this assault," Kunec said. "Please don't let him hurt another person ever again."

Dorsey's attorney, Larry Kupers, asked Dixon to limit his client's sentence to five years in prison because the assault was not "coldly calculated" and was motivated by Dorsey's depression and drug abuse. Kupers told the judge a longer sentence would unfairly "use Mr. Dorsey as the scapegoat for all crimes," including the recent string of murders and robberies in the District.

"He is not a hardened, violent offender," Kupers said.

Dixon agreed that Dorsey should receive mental health and addiction treatment in prison but said the brutality of the attack combined with Dorsey's criminal past justified a 14-year term for the assault charge.

"The immediate effect of the attack was to steal six months of time from [Fotopoulos]," Dixon said. "She lost the independence that she had, and for an old person that's a very frightening thing."

Haray had asked for a 20-year sentence, but he and Fotopoulos's family said they were satisfied.

"We're pleased that the justice system has worked in this case," said Fotopoulos's son-in-law, Ken Kunec. "Every little step that gets a long-term predator off the street makes us all a little bit safer."

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