Man's 20-year sentence in wife's slaying enrages her family

March 09, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A Glen Burnie man who killed his wife just three weeks after their wedding was sentenced to 20 years in prison, a decision that enraged the victim's family.

Clarence Pritchett III, 43, was sentenced for second-degree murder in the death of Maizella Pritchett, 48, who was found strangled and beaten at her home Sept. 30, 1991.

Judge Bruce C. Williams also agreed to recommend that Pritchett serve his sentence at the Patuxent Institution, a mental institution. With time off for good behavior, Pritchett could be paroled in 10 years.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael O. Bergeson said he agreed to the second-degree murder plea because Pritchett was intoxicated at the time of the killing and it would have been difficult to prove premeditation -- a requirement for a first-degree murder conviction.

But the 20-year term angered Ms. Pritchett's four sisters and other family members, who stood for an hour outside the courtroom after sentencing, insisting that Pritchett deserved more prison time.

"It's disgusting, just totally disgusting," said Birdadella King, a sister from Harrisburg, Pa. "There is no justice. This man should never be let out of prison. Never."

Mrs. King said that she and her sisters had "done everything you're supposed to do" to ensure a just sentence -- attending a vigil for crime victims in Annapolis, staying in touch with prosecutors and writing victim impact statements to the court before sentencing.

"You do all that and what good does it do? It doesn't do any good," she said.

Vickie Braidswood, a sister from Atlanta, said that her sister had been beaten by Pritchett several times before the murder, that he had "conned" her into marrying him and that he was only after her money. But she said none of that seemed to matter when it came time for sentencing.

"This was a good, good person that he killed," Mrs. Braidswood said. She vowed to stay in touch with the Parole Commission to ensure that Pritchett serves as much of the 20-year sentence as possible.

State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said that he would have preferred a 30-year sentence.

"I understand their anger, but the judge heard the facts and based his decision on those facts," Mr. Weathersbee said.

During the half-hour sentencing hearing, Pritchett's attorney said that her client had been drinking all that day, didn't remember committing the offense after being arrested and that he had cried when told what he had done.

Pritchett is a Vietnam veteran whose experiences in combat included having a close friend die in his arms, said defense attorney Pam North. He came home from Vietnam with shrapnel in his leg and emotional problems -- including post-traumatic stress syndrome, alcoholism, psychosis and depression -- that plagued him for the next 15 years, she said.

"He was taught how to kill, but he was not deprogrammed after the war," she said.

Court records show Pritchett fought with his wife Sept. 30, then left her at a Glen Burnie shopping center, where she called a friend who came to pick her up. After talking with Pritchett by phone from the friend's house, she agreed to return home.

Her naked and battered body was found the next day in a hallway of the home. She had been beaten severely about the face, chest and legs before being strangled. Pritchett was arrested a few days after the killing in Delaware, Mr. Bergeson said.

Mr. Bergeson said there was no single issue that triggered the fight that led to the killing, but that it was a case of a "troubled relationship" from the start. The Pritchetts were married Sept. 5, and their brief marriage was punctuated by a half-dozen fights that brought police to the home.

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