Saying that the Pam Basu carjacking has changed the community into "forever more a hostile place," a Howard County judge sentenced a Washington youth to life in prison yesterday for his role in the crime.
Bernard Eric Miller, 17, will be eligible for parole in 17 1/2 years under state guidelines after Howard Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney turned down the prosecution's request to deny the defendant the possibility of parole.
Miller received the life sentence for the Sept. 8 slaying, which made motorists nationwide fearful and prompted state and federal officials to toughen carjacking laws.
Prosecutors say Miller and a codefendant forced Dr. Basu from her BMW sedan at an intersection near her Savage home and dragged her to her death. At one point, they pulled over and placed Dr. Basu's 22-month-old daughter, who was in the car's back seat, on the road. The child was not harmed.
"These events robbed many people of this community a sense of well-being and trust," Judge Sweeney said during Miller's sentencing hearing. "The community is forever more a hostile place."
Before being sentenced, Miller told Judge Sweeney that though he was present for the carjacking, he should have been found innocent.
"I'm sorry for the Basu family," Miller said, reading a statement. "I truly sympathize. I know they are still suffering from a tragic loss."
Judge Sweeney explained that he gave Miller a chance for parole because of the defendant's age, lack of a criminal record and "supporting role" in the carjacking.
Co-defendant Rodney Eugene Soloman, 27, of Washington, will stand trial in the case in a Baltimore County court in August. Mr. Soloman, described as the leader of the carjacking, could face the death penalty if convicted.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad said that he was satisfied with Miller's sentence but that he would have preferred a denial of the chance for parole.
"We're pleased that we received a life sentence," Mr. Rexroad said. "We hope this will serve as a strong and steady deterrent for any would-be carjacker."
Ten relatives and friends of Dr. Basu who attended yesterday's hearing declined to comment on the sentence, but Mr. Rexroad said the family was satisfied.
Miller shook his head "no" when, as he was escorted from the courthouse, reporters asked him whether he thought he had received a fair sentence.
His attorney, Laurack Bray of Washington, declined to comment on the sentence but said he plans to appeal his client's conviction and to approach U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno about the case.
In addition to the life sentence, Miller was given a 10-year sentence for a kidnapping charge related to taking Dr. Basu's daughter.
Miller also was sentenced to 11 years for two unsuccessful carjacking attempts before the Basu carjacking. Miller will be permitted to serve that term simultaneously with the life sentence.
Before Judge Sweeney issued the sentence, Mr. Rexroad read statements prepared by the Basu family.
In one statement, Dr. Basu's husband, Biswanath "Steve" Basu, describes what he feels when he passes the intersection of Horsham Drive and Knight's Bridge Road, where the carjacking occurred.
"I can almost feel the chill Pam must have felt as two men approached her, feel the blows as they beat her, hear her cries as she struggled to rescue [their daughter] while the car speeds up, dragging her alongside," Mr. Basu wrote.
"I hear the thud of her head hitting the pavement and I can almost hear the life going out of her."
Dr. Basu's sister, Nita Seelinger, wrote in another statement that she is "outraged" that the carjackers made her sister's car more important than her life.
"The mindlessness of their actions, their refusal to stop when the situation had gone too far, their risking of Pam's life -- and then taking it with total disregard -- is so incomprehensible that all the things that are sacred, sure, that give my life purpose are now adrift," she wrote.
Mr. Rexroad said Miller, whom he called an active participant in the carjacking, showed no remorse for the slaying during police interviews after his arrest. "There is one thing that juts out in this case," Mr. Rexroad said. "Not one time did he express one whit of remorse."
Mr. Bray attributed Miller's "misguided presence" during the carjacking to his youth and immaturity. "Because of Bernard Miller's youth, he simply did not remove himself when perhaps he should have," the lawyer said.
Two people who watched from the spectator section gave Miller's sentence differing reviews.
Cathy Benson, a Catonsville woman who attended much of the trial, said she thought the defendant should have been denied parole.
"I thought he got off light," Ms. Benson said.
But a man who was on the jury that convicted Miller in April said he thought the sentence was fair.
"There's reason to believe he can have a future," said the juror, who declined to give his name. "I don't think he's a horrible person. He just made a real big mistake."