Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe angrily told the teen-age mother of a dead child yesterday, "You don't deserve to have children," minutes after the mother's former boyfriend pleaded guilty to punching the 2-year-old baby to death last Sept. 17.
"All I know is, here is a child only 2 years old, born to a mother who must have been around 15, left in the hands of her former boyfriend's mother," said Judge Bothe, one of the more outspoken judges on the Baltimore bench. "This court is very disturbed about a lot of people's conduct in this case."
Her remarks came during a hearing at which the former boyfriend, Gregory Gaskins, 18, of the 4700 block of Homer Avenue, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Shaquana Sample.
Gaskins had no prior record, and appeared confused and reluctant to plead guilty. But Judge Bothe told him he would receive no more than a 12- to 20-year sentence, even though Assistant State's Attorney Sharon A. H. May had asked for a 30-year term. He will be sentenced next month.
The judge's anger at Shaquana's mother, 17-year-old Stacey Sample, apparently stemmed, at least in part, from autopsy findings that the child's body showed evidence of previous abuse.
Calling Ms. Sample forward, Judge Bothe asked about the other marks on the child's body, and after some initial confusion the slim girl said softly, "I thought it was a rash."
"Well, it wasn't a rash," the judge retorted. "When that child was left in the house where he killed her, she was already the victim of child abuse. Do you have any other children? Are you going to have any more?"
When Ms. Sample said she didn't know, the judge told her, "Well, you'd better do something to see that you don't. You don't deserve to have children. Children shouldn't be left in your care.
"Are you doing anything to see another child doesn't come into the world? . . . I'm sure you have boyfriends."
The girl said yes, she was going to a clinic, and no, she doesn't have a boyfriend, before she returned to her seat among the spectators from both families.
Gaskins was a former boyfriend who had remained a friend of Ms. Sample, and was not the child's father. Ms. Sample also was close to Gaskins' mother, Teresa Wallace, and had left Shaquana to be cared for by her that weekend, according to the statement of facts.
The judge also lectured Gaskins' mother about leaving the little girl. When called forward, Ms. Wallace said Shaquana was sick and she had awakened her son to watch the child while she went to a telephone to try to find Ms. Sample.
While she was gone, according to the confession to police read by Ms. May, Gaskins gave Shaquana a bite of his egg sandwich. She spit some back and was trying to swallow the rest whole, "and that's when I grabbed her and shook her and I told her to chew it up," he was quoted as telling the police.
He told police that "I was supposed to be giving her a spanking" and that he hit her twice in the legs and twice in the stomach. "I didn't mean to ball my fist up, but I did," he was quoted as saying. He tried to spank her on the arm, according to his statement, but instead "hit her in the chest twice."
Shaquana started to cry, but stopped, and he turned her on her stomach on the bed and told her to go to sleep. He said he noticed that her eyes were half closed and she wasn't sucking on the bottle in her mouth, as he told her, "That's right. Go to sleep."
When Ms. Wallace returned and couldn't rouse the child, Shaquana was taken to Sinai Hospital, where she was dead on arrival.