The New York authorities who kept Shawn E. Brown in prison for nine years are now sickened that they let him go so soon soon enough for the predator of children to land in a Baltimore jail on charges that he murdered two boys.
"I arrest people all the time who I feel sorry for. I never felt sorry for this guy," said Peter D. Tynan, the Syracuse, N.Y., detective who investigated Mr. Brown's 1986 attacks against two young boys there. "He struck me as someone inherently evil."
For the Syracuse attacks choking one child until blood spilled from his eyes and smashing the other in the head with a rock before trying to drown him Mr. Brown was offered a plea bargain on assault charges and jailed from 1986 to 1995.
But his sentence wasn't nearly enough, investigators now say, not given the crimes committed by a man described as having "violent urges to kill young people" sexually brutal desires chronicled in diaries confiscated by police.
"We feel horrible up here that the guy we arrested and we prosecuted hurt kids down there," said Mr. Tynan. "I can't believe there was a plea bargain."
William J. Fitzpatrick, the prosecutor who had Mr. Brown indicted for the Syracuse assaults, says he was adamant that the defendant face a severe sentence that a deal would be offered only for guilty pleas to two counts of attempted murder.
How could they offer anything less to a man who left a drawing with one of his unconscious victims that said: "I'm a wolf among you."
With guilty pleas for attempted murder, the state would have recommended consecutive maximum sentences for a combined term of 17 to 50 years. But by the time Shawn Brown's case got to court in 1988 after a series of snags and delays over his mental state, Mr. Fitzpatrick was no longer in the district attorney's office.
And for reasons that are still unclear, his instructions were ignored.
In exchange for pleading guilty to one count of first-degree assault, Mr. Brown was given three to nine years. Serving the full sentence allowed him to walk out of prison last June as a free man with no obligation to check in with anyone.
"You can't lock people up forever," says Judge J. Kevin Mulroy, who sentenced Mr. Brown in Syracuse. "We have to recognize that people, as dangerous as they may be, can serve their time and go free."
None of which sits well with Mr. Fitzpatrick, who has returned to his old office as district attorney.
"I'm sure the people who handled the file have all kinds of excuses as to why it was handled the way it was," he said. "It rings very hollow to me and I'm sure it rings very hollow to the families of the two boys in Baltimore."
A troubled past
Since his childhood in Baltimore, the criminal justice system has had to deal with Shawn Brown.
In fact, it repeatedly has been forced to deal with a man who invents alter egos for himself, yet claims to live by the dictum: "To thine own self be true "
Now, with the recent strangulation deaths of two Baltimore boys 8-year-old Marvin "Bear" Wise, whom Mr. Brown claims to have "loved," and 16-year-old Obdul Richards, whose body was found by police with help from Mr. Brown the system is dealing with him again.
Young Richards, missing since late January, was found dead in a boarded-up Catholic school at East Eager and Valley streets on March 1.
Marvin Wise's body was found in a vacant 12th-floor apartment in the Flag House Courts public housing complex on Feb. 25. The child lived with his mother on the 11th floor, and Mr. Brown was staying with relatives on the 10th floor, according to police.
The night before his body was found, "Bear" attended a pajama party held by Mr. Brown on the 10th floor.
Mr. Brown, interviewed at the Baltimore City Detention Center by The Sun, maintained he is innocent of both charges.
"I wish they had put him in some type of program that would have helped him, instead of keeping him locked up all those years, and then, one day, just releasing him," said Ida Dail, Mr. Brown's mother. "I keep thinking, if it's not too late, I still want to get him some help."
Help was offered
A chronic school truant, Mr. Brown began running away from his home in Baltimore's Reservoir Hill community at 13, behavior that got him to the Maryland Training School for Boys, which also failed to hold him.
After one of his reform school escapes, police found him with journal entries describing violent sex with boys, which in 1986 led authorities to send him to a Johns Hopkins Hospital clinic for sexual disorders.
Dr. Fred Berlin, the clinic director who, according to a police report, treated Mr. Brown for "violent urges to kill young people," would not comment about him last week.
Mr. Brown walked away from the Hopkins clinic on June 14, 1986, before receiving a complete evaluation, a hospital official said at the time. From Hopkins, he slipped onto a series of northbound Greyhounds without bothering to buy a ticket.
Attack in a playground