A federal judge lopped a dozen years off the prison sentence of a former U.S. Army Ranger who in 2006 led a military-style takeover robbery of a Tacoma bank and then tried to hire a hit man to kill the prosecutor who sent him away.
Luke Elliott Sommer, now 36, has served 15 years of what had been a 44-year sentence. U.S. District Judge James Robart, who granted Sommer’s motion for a new sentence last month, left him behind bars to serve 17 more.
Sommer, in a 45-page self-drafted motion citing his youth at the time of the crimes and his rehabilitation behind bars, asked the judge to reduce his sentence to no more than 20 years, also arguing he should be released immediately.
Robart agreed Sommer’s initial sentence was excessive. He also acknowledged both the difficult time Sommer had spent in prison during the COVID-19 lockdowns and dozens of testimonials from prison officials, counselors, guards and other people in custody who hailed Sommer’s transformation from an angry and traumatized combat veteran to a role model at the maximum-security Coleman II federal penitentiary in Sumterville, Florida.
Even so, Robart said at a sentencing hearing Wednesday that Sommer’s crimes “are some of the most extreme, violent and dangerous actions to come before this court.”
Robart heard testimony from three bank employees who related how their lives and sense of safety and well-being were shattered during the holdup.
According to documents filed in the case, Sommer was an Army Ranger stationed at Fort Lewis when he recruited two other Rangers, Chad Palmer and Alex Blum, and Canadian nationals Tigra Robertson and Nathan Dunmall, to participate in the Aug. 7, 2006, robbery of a Bank of America branch on South Tacoma Way. The robbers, some armed with AK-47s and wearing body armor, made off with $54,011.
Prosecutors said Sommer, a dual citizen, of Peachland, British Columbia, planned to use the money to establish a crime family in Canada. Sommer claimed the robbery was a political protest to draw attention to war crimes he witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan — a claim the Army later discounted.
U.S. Attorney Nick Brown, whose office opposed any sentence reduction, acknowledged Sommer has apologized for his actions and claimed to be rehabilitated.
“He claims to be committed to working on his reform and doing what is right,” Brown said. “He now has more than a decade to demonstrate that commitment while he remains incarcerated.”
Blum and Palmer, who served alongside Sommer in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, pleaded guilty to taking part in the robbery, as did Robertson, of Kelowna, B.C., and Dunmall, of Chilliwack, B.C.
While in prison, Sommer assaulted one of his co-defendants with a homemade knife, then tried to hire a hit man to kill the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted him. The hit man turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
He was sentenced to 24 years in prison for the robbery and an additional 20 years for the assault and attempt to solicit a hired killer.
Sommer served Ranger combat deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq — where he said his roommate was killed by a roadside bomb.
In Afghanistan, Sommer wrote in his motion, he struggled with post-traumatic stress after his platoon was dispatched to recover the remains of Navy SEAL Team 10 and their rescuers, who died in a 2005 ambush and helicopter crash memorialized in the book and movie “Lone Survivor.”
Sommer said he knew and had worked alongside many of those who were killed.
In reducing Sommer’s sentence, Robart noted that “punishment is not vengeance or retaliation” and said he put particular weight on letters from Bureau of Prisons staff who indicate Sommer has “worked hard to do the right thing while incarcerated.”
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