A man whom a judge described as one of the most reprehensible killers she had ever seen was sentenced to life plus 20 years in jail yesterday for the slaying of a Greenmount Avenue barber.
"This young man, at the tender age of 20, is one of the most irredeemable men I've ever had to sentence," Circuit Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe said as she imposed the maximum sentence on Renard A. Wheeler.
"He's totally lacking in any insight into why he does what he does. There is no hope that he would ever function in the community," Judge Bothe said.
Wheeler and another man, Freddie Lee Bradshaw, 22, were convicted of first-degree murder for the Dec. 20, 1990, killing of 54-year-old James Remsburg. Bradshaw is already serving a life sentence with all but 30 years suspended.
Mr. Remsburg, who ran Jim's Barber Shop in the 3000 block of Greenmount Ave. for 29 years, was cutting a customer's hair when a gunman announced a robbery. Mr. Remsburg refused to hand over any money, and the gunman shot him.
Wheeler, dressed in sneakers and an orange sweat shirt, carried a book of religious scriptures into court. He told the judge that he regretted his crime and his troubled life.
"I'm sorry for what's happened to the victims. I should have used better judgment in some decisions in my life," he said. "I should have chosen better friends."
Judge Bothe, after hearing the comments, said to him, "Why is it you keep blaming your friends?"
Mr. Remsburg's daughter, Dolores Tribble, said after the sentencing that Wheeler "got what he deserved. I hope he gets some help in prison."
The family has since sold the barber shop, and "it's a nightmare for us to see it. It meant so much to my father, it's where he spent nearly 30 years of his life," Ms. Tribble said.
During the trial, Wheeler contended that he had only been the lookout man in the robbery and that he didn't know his accomplice would kill Mr. Remsburg. But a witness testified that Wheeler bragged to him about shooting the barber.
Wheeler told the judge that he came from a family of 11 children who all had criminal problems. Wheeler himself had been arrested several times as a juvenile for a variety of offenses, including assault and sex offenses.
While awaiting sentencing, Wheeler sent two letters to Judge Bothe, which showed him to be articulate and intelligent, she said.
"He might have been a constructive person" if he had chosen to grow up more responsibly, Judge Bothe said.