A 26-year-old gospel singer was sentenced today to life plus 20 years in prison for what a judge called the "ruthless and callous" murder of furniture store executive Aaron S. Levenson during a botched robbery on Oct. 4.
Before sentencing, Jeffrey Lloyd Johnson, who pleaded guilty March 5 to first-degree felony murder, attempted armed robbery and a handgun violation, expressed his regret to Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph I. Pines.
"I'm sorry for what happened," he said, turning to lookover to a group of Levenson's relatives seated in court but stopping short. "I know what his family is feeling right now, and I know what my family is feeling right now. I just want to say I'm sorry for what happened."
As part of the plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to withdraw a plan to seek a sentence of life without parole in the case, which was formally done today. Johnson will be eligible for parole in 20 years, according to his lawyer.
Two character witnesses for the defense, including a clergyman with a cable television ministry, described Johnson as an accomplished gospel singer and church volunteer.
Defense lawyer Randolph O. Gregory Sr. said his client, a Southwestern High graduate, turned down a college wrestling scholarship and entered the Army. He was discharged from the service after testing positive for marijuana.
Johnson, the father of a daughter, made his living as a delivery and maintenance man for $5.50 an hour, Gregory said. "He's always done the best he could with what he had."
When he set out to rob Levenson, 30, vice president of the century-old Royal Furniture Co. in southwest Baltimore, Johnson was acting out of "economic desperation." The plan was not to shoot anyone, he said: "Things went awry."
Prosecutor Gary Schenker said Johnson acted out of "the greed to have money, to have possessions. If you have it and I want it, it's mine."
Levenson, the father of two young girls, was shot three times with a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. He was shot twice as he lay on the pavement. "Perhaps Aaron Levenson would have had a chance at survival with one gunshot," Schenker said.