Man who killed girlfriend gets life sentence

March 23, 1994|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

Before receiving a life sentence yesterday, Preston Robert Fuller told a Baltimore County judge that he had meant to kill himself rather than his former girlfriend when he went to her desk last September at PHH FleetAmerica in Hunt Valley.

Fuller, 29, of the 4800 block of Reisterstown Road, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and robbery, for taking a car from a woman at gunpoint as he fled the business.

Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill imposed the life sentence, as agreed in a plea bargain.

A statement of facts to support the guilty finding said Fuller had threatened to hurt or kill Dena Lawanda Pettaway in the days before he left the mailroom on Sept. 15 with a revolver concealed in mail.

Ms. Pettaway, 26, of the 4700 block of Hawksbury Road in the Randallstown area, had ended a five-month romantic relationship with Fuller last July, said Assistant State's Attorney Sandy Williams. The victim was about 10 weeks pregnant, the prosecutor said, and Fuller had been demanding to know who the father was.

About 8:30 a.m., in front of dozens of co-workers in the expense-control department, Fuller shot Ms. Pettaway twice in the head with a Colt revolver purchased from a friend's son for $150.

Fuller, who had no criminal record, told the judge in a courtroom crowded with his and the victim's family members, "I meant to take my own life rather than take somebody else's."

Defense Attorney A. Dwight Pettit said Fuller apparently changed his plan and shot Ms. Pettaway because she had taunted him about her pregnancy. Fuller suffers from paranoia and depression but was found by doctors to have been criminally responsible, the attorney said.

When arrested two days after the shooting, Fuller threatened to shoot himself before surrendering and giving a confession.

Ms. Pettaway's brother, Alvin Pettaway, and a sister, Edith Knight, told the judge their family had been devastated and they felt victimized by the criminal justice system.

"If he had loved her and took his own life [too], I might not feel so bad," Ms. Knight said. "But I don't think he intended to kill himself . . . I think he should get the death penalty."

Ms. Williams said later the case didn't qualify for the death penalty because the fetus was not viable and because the armed robbery of the car wasn't directly related to the murder.

"The real victims are the people seated in this courtroom facing the court," Judge Cahill said. "On the one side, we have the defendant's family, still interested in him. . . . On the other side, we have the victim's siblings, who have so eloquently stated how they feel. . . . There's little I can do for them."

Judge Cahill said the case "is another example of handgun violence in this community, and the ease with which a person tormented by a relationship . . . can get a gun to solve it by violence, instead of words, is frightening."

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