Christopher Cannata, a prolific criminal who has racked up 43 felony convictions, was sentenced Friday to more than 27 years in prison.
Cannata, 44, was charged with stealing numerous items and about $13,000 in cash from Chaps Diner and Bakery, on Cheney-Spokane Road, in February 2015. He was also charged with burglary and vehicle theft from last August.
As a career criminal, Cannata has spent the last 30 years in and out of jail and prison, mostly on nonviolent offenses such as burglary and drug use. Former Police Chief Frank Straub once called Cannata and other prolific burglars “problem children.”
At Cannata’s sentencing hearing Friday, the prosecution and defense argued back and forth for several hours, questioning the defendant’s integrity and likelihood to commit further crimes.
The prosecution alleged Cannata had been committing forgery while behind bars, and that he had made multiple wedding proposals to different women “so that he could get his monthly conjugal visits,” said Spokane Police Detective and witness Lonnie Tofsrud.
The prosecution called witness Celeste Shaw, owner of Chaps Diner and Bakery, who said she’d been saving toward retirement for years and had plowed every cent she had into her cafe. “And in 40 minutes, Mr. Cannata worked to tear that down.”
“I’m saying, not as a victim but as a member of the community, that we’re tired of any kind of infinite complacency he has in a courtroom,” Shaw said.
The prosecution pushed for Cannata to receive an exceptional sentence this time, recommending 40 years in prison and a year of community custody. Prosecuting attorney Anthony Hazel said the “revolving doors” of the criminal justice system have repeatedly put Cannata back into the community.
“This is a case that has had a significant impact,” Hazel said. “It’s caused fear that the system isn’t working. How can someone have 43 convictions without getting stopped?”
The defense painted a different picture of the man who they say has been “labeled a monster.” When Cannata was 13, defense attorney Kevin Griffin said he was sexually abused while checked into a drug-treatment program after he was caught smoking marijuana at school. Griffin alleges Cannata’s downturn and heroin addiction were a result of that abuse.
“His mother is racked with guilt for sending him to that facility,” Griffin said. “His father has disowned him. This is not being offered as an excuse. This is just the reality he’s lived in.”
Sue Cannata said her son went in to the treatment program one person, and came out another.
“A Jekyll and Hyde,” she said. “There has to be a reason why a young man wakes up every day and does what he does.”
When it was time for Cannata to speak, he offered apologies to Shaw and other witnesses as he turned around to face them.
“I’d just like to say I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m guilty as charged. I’ll live with whatever I’m given.”
Judge James Triplet sentenced Cannata to 27 1/2 years in prison, and 7 1/2 years in Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative – a prison-based drug treatment program. He said he hopes the sentence will help Cannata get clean before being released. If he maintains good behavior, he could be eligible to be released at about the age of 57.
“If we keep doing the same thing over and over, we’re going to get the same result,” Triplet told Cannata. “This is probably the last chance you’re gonna get.”
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