Man given 18-year term for killing 'best friend'

June 03, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

By all accounts given in Anne Arundel Circuit Court yesterday, Douglas Palmer helped Leo Brennen when he needed it most.

The 24-year-old laborer had just checked out of Samaritan House, a halfway house for addicts, in the spring of 1993, when Mr. Palmer agreed to let him stay at his Annapolis house rent-free and found him work at the tire store where he was manager.

Yesterday, Brennen admitted that about five months later, he repaid the favor by stabbing his "best friend" 12 times in the chest, stealing his wallet and driving off in his car.

"I will have to live with the nightmare that I've lost not only a brother figure, but a hell of a good friend," a sobbing Brennen told Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. "I want the Palmer family to know that I'm not a cold-blooded murderer."

Judge Thieme sentenced Brennen to 18 years in prison and five years' probation yesterday for second-degree murder in the Sept. 28, 1993, slaying.

Police said the two men had been drinking at the Ebb Tide, a bar near Annapolis, before they came back to the house they shared in the 1300 block of Washington St. There, they got into a drunken argument and Brennen stabbed the 31-year-old victim in the chest, police said.

Brennen left the knife in the victim and took off in Mr. Palmer's silver Oldsmobile Cutlass. He ran out of gas in Woodbridge, Va., where he called police from a shopping center phone booth to admit to the crime and surrender.

At sentencing yesterday, assistant state's attorney Jennifer Spivak asked that Brennen be given the maximum 30-year term allowed.

"The court has to ask itself if someone is going to do this to his best friend, then who among us is safe," she said.

She and Mr. Palmer's family described the victim as a loving father and a caring friend.

"My son was the kind of person who liked to help people. He took this guy in, and look what happened," Martha Maddocks, the victim's mother, said afterward.

She later said her son's three children by his first wife stayed with their mother in Chesapeake City, Va., but that his youngest boy, Brandon, a son by a second marriage, stayed with her so that father and son could see each other each day.

"He was great with children," said Dina Palmer, the victim's sister and a mother of two.

Mrs. Maddocks read a poem in court that she said Brandon, now 5, had written about the impact his father's death has had on him.

"I'll ask God to help me see why my daddy's dead . . . and you're alive today," she read, her hand trembling.

Mr. Palmer's family later said they were disappointed with what they consider a lenient sentence.

"My feeling is if you take a life, you should give your life," said HTC Skip Lee, the victim's stepbrother.

But Michael E. Grossfeld, the defense attorney, argued that the murder occurred during a drunken fight in which Brennen suffered a cut hand that required 13 stitches and that he never consciously intended to kill his friend.

"My point is he went into a blind rage and just went off the deep end," Mr. Grossfeld said.

He noted that an autopsy showed the victim's blood alcohol level was .31, three times the legal limit for intoxication, at the time of the murder.

Brennen's alcohol intake was "probably about the same," he said.

Mr. Grossfeld also played for the judge Brennen's tape-recorded 911 call surrendering to police in Prince William County, Va., to demonstrate his client's remorse and his honesty in admitting to the crime right from the start.

"I think I should kill myself," Brennen is heard telling a police dispatcher on the tape.

Brennen's family also testified that the defendant was the product of an abusive father and alcoholic mother, who left home when he was 5 and later died from complications due to alcoholism at Crownsville State Hospital.

As a child, Brennen was frequently beaten and often told by his parents that he was worthless, two of his sisters told the judge.

"Leo was treated no better than the trash that was left out on the curb," said Kimberly McCoy, one sister.

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