Community weighs Solomon sentence HOWARD COUNTY

August 20, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

At town meetings nearly a year ago, hundreds of Howard County residents demanded blood in the carjacking death of Pam Basu. But as word spread yesterday of a second life sentence in the case, community reaction was more measured and varied.

The response of neighbors and friends in the Bolling Brook community where the crime occurred ranged from weary but satisfied to angry and disappointed. Some said they were sorry the two men responsible -- Rodney Eugene Solomon and Bernard Eric Miller -- did not receive the maximum penalty of death.

"I think it's outrageous," said Catherine Nehring, who witnessed the carjacking. "I don't think people like that are in any way reformable."

But others who initially favored capital punishment had changed their minds.

Kathy McDowell, a board member on the Bolling Brook Homeowner's Association, said that doubt raised during the trials made her and other community members uneasy about a capital sentence. Conflicting accounts of who drove the car as it dragged the 34-year-old research chemist to her death left her unsure which man was ultimately responsible.

"Because of the discrepancy in the testimony, I would have to vote for life sentencing," Mrs. McDowell said. "It wasn't clear cut."

Mrs. McDowell's comments came the day after a Baltimore County jury sentenced Solomon to life in prison without parole. ,, The prosecutor, Howard County Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad, had sought the death penalty. Miller was earlier sentenced to life plus 10 years.

Some residents of the community where Dr. Basu lived said they would have voted for the death penalty for Solomon.

"I could have done it without even thinking twice," said attorney Craig Rosenstein.

"Once you take someone's life maliciously, I think you lose your right to life," said Melody Miano, standing in her doorway, holding her 6-month-old son. , Thomas.

But Sherry McLean, who skated along Horsham Drive, where Dr. Basu's husband Biswanath "Steve" Basu lives with the couple's 2-year-old daughter, said she favored the life sentence.

"Death is too good for him," said Mrs. McLean. "He's going to suffer more spending his life in prison thinking about what he did."

As residents pondered the verdict, they also talked of the way the slaying has affected their community. It has meant locking their doors more often, viewing strangers with more skepticism and teaching their children to be more careful. For others, the impact has been more personal.

Ms. Nehring picked up Dr. Basu's daughter, Sarina, after Solomon dropped the child from the stolen BMW during the carjacking. Ms. Nehring said her two young daughters were distraught by the whole experience and received months of counseling.

Five-year-old Maureen stopped eating and lost about 5 of her approximately 45 pounds.

"I couldn't even bear to look at her when she was undressed," Ms. Nehring recalled. "You could count every single rib."

But many also say Dr. Basu's death has drawn the community closer. After the slaying, residents began a neighborhood watch. Today, people talk more on the street and look after each other's homes more often when they are away.

"It's ripped this community to pieces," said Laura Becraft, who narrowly escaped being carjacked by the two men that day, "but brought it back together."

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