Man, 20, gets life for murders of teen athlete and her neighbor

March 25, 1998|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A 20-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for the murders of a high school volleyball star and her neighbor in West Baltimore -- crimes a Baltimore circuit judge called "imponderable."

Augusta Johnson III sat quietly as Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a heartbroken mother cataloged the pain that ripples still from Johnson's shootings of Erica Jefferson, 16, and Brian Sterrett, 21, just after midnight Dec. 16, 1995.

Jefferson was an honor student-athlete at Edmondson-Westside High School and an active member of Mount Moriah Baptist Church in West Baltimore. She had been chosen as one of 12 players nationally on the U.S. volleyball team scheduled to tour Europe the next summer.

Sterrett graduated from Edmondson-Westside three years ago and had worked for United Parcel Service on Joh Avenue as a loader. He was an active member of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Towson.

Johnson, who pleaded guilty to the crimes Feb. 3, was trying to rob Sterrett, Assistant State's Attorney William D. McCollum Jr. said.

Johnson was waiting outside Sterrett's mother's Uplands Park home in the 4400 block of Old Frederick Road, holding a gun. When Jefferson walked across the street on the way to her mother's house -- dressed similarly to Sterrett, in a plaid shirt, black pants and a hat -- Johnson ran toward her. He took her around a corner, and witnesses heard a shot.

A few minutes later, McCollum said, Johnson spotted Sterrett sitting in his car and shot him, too.

"When he put that bullet in her head, he might as well have put a bullet in my head, Your Honor," Bernice Hicks, Jefferson's mother, tearfully told the judge. "He took my best friend for no apparent reason."

Defense attorney Arnold Foreman, who said he had known Johnson since the defendant was a boy, described the killings as "an aberration" for which he asked a measure of mercy. Said Foreman: "I've never known Mr. Johnson to be a violent person."

Friedman imposed two concurrent life terms for first-degree murder, with a 20-year sentence for use of a handgun in the commission of a felony to run at the same time. She said she would recommend that Johnson be placed in a program for young offenders at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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