Man gets 30 years in murder of tree seller Pa. man slain in 1994 as he came to aid of worker during day's 2nd holdup

January 04, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The death of a Christmas tree salesman came to closure yesterday for his family and the man who killed him, as the killer was sentenced to 35 years in prison and three daughters poured out their grief.

Baltimore Circuit Judge John C. Themelis sentenced Carl L. Johnson to 30 years in prison under a plea agreement for second-degree murder in the death of Samuel J. Meyer, with five additional years for a handgun violation.

Mr. Meyer, 68, was shot in the chest in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve 1994 while in his trailer on a lot in the 4400 block of Reisterstown Road. It was the second time he'd been robbed that day, and the third that week. He had been coming to Baltimore from his home in Lebanon, Pa., for the past three decades to sell Christmas trees.

Dave Andrew Daye, 25, who also participated in the robbery, entered an Alford plea to a charge of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison with all but 10 suspended. The Alford plea means Daye did not admit guilt, but acknowledged he could have been found guilty.

Prosecutors said Johnson and Daye approached the trailer while Mr. Meyer was sleeping and confronted another worker. Johnson pulled a handgun and pointed it through the window of the trailer, they said. Mr. Meyer, coming to the worker's aid, was shot once in the chest.

The sentencing hearing was emotional for the three of Mr. Meyer's five daughters who were able to attend. They said they had lost a bedrock of strength in their father.

Their father was never afraid of anything, the daughters said after the sentencing. They said he never hesitated to travel from Lebanon, a small town where people still leave their doors unlocked, to some of Baltimore's roughest neighborhoods to sell Christmas trees.

"He thought you were safer here than in your own living room, if he was with you," said his daughter Lisa Gonzales.

But the daughters said they had been heartened by the concern shown them by Baltimore police detectives and prosecutors, who they said really cared about finding their father's killers. "They are heavenly angels," said daughter Donna Meade.

Johnson's attorney, Margaret Mead, said her client felt "incredible remorse and regret" over the killing, and had told her he wished he had been the one to die.

She described Johnson as a father supporting three children, who struggled with a heroin and cocaine habit, fell short of cash as Christmas approached and ended up wielding a gun he didn't know how to handle.

"This is a prime example of the tragedy of drug abuse and problems within our society," Ms. Mead said.

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