Columbia man who killed his neighbor receives 25-year jail term

May 04, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Columbia man who fatally shot his 21-year-old neighbor nearly two years ago in a dispute over a $50 debt was sentenced to 25 years in prison yesterday.

Dwayne Romaine Briggs, 34, was given the sentence in Howard Circuit Court as part of a plea agreement he accepted in February for second-degree murder and a weapons violation.

Briggs, originally charged with first-degree murder, killed Lawrence Rico Evans III at the Beeches Farm apartment complex, where both men lived.

Briggs, a former maintenance worker at the Kings Contrivance complex, went to trial in January 1993, but the jury could not reach a verdict. He testified at the trial that he acted in self-defense.

During yesterday's hearing, Briggs told the victim's father -- who sat in the courtroom's gallery -- that he still suffers from flashbacks of the June 9, 1992, shooting.

Briggs said he did not intentionally shoot Mr. Evans, adding that he doesn't know how the shooting transpired.

"I'm truly sorry for what happened," Briggs told the victim's father, Lawrence Rico Evans Jr. "I know you will never forgive me for my actions. I'm sorry for that as well."

Judge Dennis M. Sweeney initially sentenced Briggs to 30 years in jail but suspended five years of the term. Briggs must serve about eight years of the sentence before he will be eligible for parole, under state guidelines.

Briggs must complete five years of probation upon his release from prison.

County prosecutors had wanted Briggs to serve a full 30-year prison term. But the county Office of Parole and Probation, which provided a report on the defendant, recommended a sentence of between 15 and 25 years.

While imposing the sentence, Judge Sweeney said that he was "mystified" by the circumstances of an incident that ended with the death of a young man, likely destroyed Briggs' life and forever affected the lives of their families and friends.

The judge noted that no one, including Briggs, has been able to offer an explanation for the incident.

"There doesn't seem to be any rhyme, reason or sense to it," Judge Sweeney said. "It's hard to justify anything that occurred here."

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Christine Gage argued for a 30-year sentence for Briggs, dismissing his claims of self-defense.

Ms. Gage noted that testimony at Briggs' first trial showed that Mr. Evans was unarmed and that Briggs was carrying a loaded .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun while walking his dog.

The prosecutor argued that Briggs acted in cold blood when he fired six shots at Mr. Evans. One of the bullets struck Mr. Evans in the chest, killing him.

"A young man lost his life for no apparent reason," Ms. Gage

said. "This case calls out for substantial incarceration."

Edward Smith Jr. of Baltimore, the attorney for Briggs, asked Judge Sweeney for a lenient sentence, saying that the slaying has forever changed the life of his client.

Mr. Smith acknowledged the long-term effects of Mr. Evans' death, not only to his family and friends but also to the residents of the Beeches Farm complex.

"I wish I could put everything back the way it was before that evening," Mr. Smith said. "Any death diminishes a community. There is a void that nobody can fill."

Briggs testified at his first trial that he and Mr. Evans had been friends for about three years but that their relationship became strained after Mr. Evans failed to repay $50.

The night of the shooting, Briggs testified, he got a gun from his vehicle when he took his dog for a walk. While on the walk, he said, he saw Mr. Evans, and the two started a conversation.

Briggs said his dog jerked at its leash, causing him to drop the handgun. As he picked up the gun, he said, he saw Mr. Evans coming toward him. He said he was afraid of Mr. Evans and that he pulled the trigger, unaware that the gun was aimed at Mr. Evans.

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