Kevin L. Jones, who won the right to a new trial after his conviction in the murder of a Towson minister was overturned by an appeals court last February, pleaded guilty yesterday to the murder in a Baltimore Circuit Court.
Jones, who was 15 when he was convicted in 1988 of the robbery and murder of Rev. Lewis F. Ransom, the former pastor of Towson United Methodist Church, was immediately sentenced by Circuit Judge Elsbeth Levy Bothe to a life sentence with all but 15 years suspended.
Yesterday's plea had been "negotiated over the course of several months," said Donald Giblin, the prosecutor. "The offer has been there for some time."
The state Court of Special Appeals sent Jones' case back to the trial court after it found that he had been improperly required to testify for Timothy Rogers, his co-defendant. Jones asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not answer any questions posed to him, and the judge instructed the jury not to consider his silence in its deliberations.
But in ordering a new trial, the appeals court ruled that his right to a fair trial was compromised because he was forced to invoke the Fifth Amendment in front of the jury.
Jones and Rogers were both convicted at that trial. Jones was sentenced to life with all but 30 years suspended. Rogers was tried as the trigger man in the murder of Mr. Ransom, 76, who was shot and robbed March 22, 1987, as he returned to his car after visiting patients at University Hospital. Rogers is serving a prison sentence of life plus 20 years.
Jones, who is now 18, pleaded guilty yesterday to first-degree murder, attempted armed robbery and a handgun violation. He will be eligible for parole in 11 years and six months and will serve a maximum of 15 years in prison.
He will also serve five years of probation when he is released.
Sally Jane Ransom, Mr. Ransom's widow, expressed relief at Jones' plea.
"It was a very emotional time for me. It resurfaced all the original pain," said Mrs. Ransom, who since her husband's murder has helped to establish bereavement centers for the survivors of murder victims in Baltimore city and county.
"My first reaction is, 'At last, it's over,' " she said.