ANNAPOLIS -- Steven Gregory Anderson was sentenced yesterday to life without parole in the robbery, rape and murder of a 41-year-old Crofton woman as part of a legal maneuver defense lawyers said was the first of its kind in the state.
Anderson, 31, pleaded "guilty upon conditions" to the September 1990 murder of Gwyn Dixon Criswell. The conditions were that he could withdraw the plea if Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge H. Chester Goudy decided to impose the death penalty.
Prosecutors had unsuccessfully challenged the motion before Judge Goudy heard arguments on whether Anderson should die in the gas chamber or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Judge Goudy ordered the life-without-parole sentence for the murder, another life term for rape and 10 years for robbery.
During the hearing, defense lawyers asked the judge to spare Anderson's life, pointing to a childhood of "absolute terror and chaos," and said their client was likely to die of acquired immune deficiency syndrome before he could be executed.
Theodore Criswell paid a tearful tribute to his slain wife from the prosecutor's table. "Gwyn was the most caring, gentle soul I've ever met," he began, clutching a framed portrait of the woman.
For half an hour, Mr. Criswell described a family -- and a middle-class community -- that was changed by the murder on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning.
"I'm haunted by nightmares. I cry each and every day," Mr. Criswell said, his voice breaking. "I have strong feelings my personal life is over. Nobody could compare to her."
He said the murder "probably destroyed forever a trusting, safe way of life that was the norm in Crofton."
His 21-year-old son, Brian Criswell, sat beside him as he spoke.
Robert H. Waldman, an assistant public defender, contrasted the loving atmosphere in the Criswell home with the neglect and abuse -- some of it sexual -- endured by Anderson as a child.
For an hour and 20 minutes, he traced Anderson's life from a difficult childbirth that left him a "banged-up baby" to more than a decade in prison on a variety of charges from the time he was 18 to the hours just before the murder.
Anderson was a hyperactive child, a seventh-grade dropout who had been through the juvenile justice system and had spent more than a year in a mental hospital.
Mr. Waldman described his client as a latent schizophrenic with personality disorders and a tendency to mutilate himself by swallowing razor blades and other objects.
He had developed a severe addiction to crack cocaine and, having smoked "several hundred dollars worth" of the drug the morning of the murder, set out to steal money to buy more drugs, Mr. Waldman said.
Anderson did not speak during the hearing, but his lawyers presented a letter he wrote apologizing to Mr. Criswell.
"I have had a rough life, and I don't always think right," Anderson wrote. "I wish to God I knew what to do to make the pain you all feel go away but I don't and that I have to live with."
Asked after the hearing why he killed the woman, Anderson said, "I don't know why."
Mr. Waldman said the murder started as a purse-snatching but got out of hand, in part because Anderson felt "power and authority" with a gun in his hand.
According to a statement of facts read by Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia M. Ferris, Mrs. Criswell, a computer systems analyst with the Navy Department and the mother of two, drove to the bank and the library the morning of Sept. 16, 1990, and was never again seen alive by her family.
She said Anderson was seen driving the woman's car later that night by a woman whose purse he allegedly had snatched. When police arrested Anderson, they found a .25-caliber handgun in the car. Anderson eventually told homicide detectives, "I killed her, man, but I don't want to talk about it."
Mrs. Criswell's body was found the following day in a field near the Crofton library. Ms. Ferris said the woman had been raped and strangled and that the strap of a canvas bag she used to carry library books was around her neck.
Mr. Criswell termed Anderson's sentence "absolutely ludicrous."
"The bigger the bum I am, the more I can get away with," he said. "I bet half the people in that courtroom came from dysfunctional families. I was beaten when I was a kid. Maybe not the same manner or severity, but I was beaten."