Man gets life term, no parole for killing Judge calls stabbing of widow, 61, one of 'worst cases I've seen'

May 28, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A 20-year-old man who knifed a Severn woman to death to experience the crime was sentenced yesterday to life in prison without parole, plus 20 years.

The General Assembly created the no-parole provision "for this kind of case," Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner told Reginald Cooper of Ridgely in Caroline County.

"This is one of the worst cases I've seen," said Lerner, who has been a judge for 18 years. "When you do things like this, you have to pay the penalty."

Members of Cooper's family cried "Oh my God" as Lerner imposed the sentence.

Cooper was convicted last month of first-degree murder and three other charges in the death July 6 of Joan T. Maiolo, 61, a widow who lived alone in a Severn townhouse.

"I thought the pain of losing my mother was the worst pain in the world until I had to watch my grandmother bury her first-born child," Mary Bass, 40, of Mobile, Ala., sobbed to Lerner.

Cooper apologized to the victim's family, but family members said it came across as hollow and rehearsed.

Yesterday, Maiolo's five children and several of her 11 grandchildren said they were pleased with Cooper's sentence. They cried outside the courtroom as they remembered a tender woman, a frightening death and 10 months of waiting for the case to reach sentencing.

"I fear a fear that I've never had before in my life," said daughter Susanne Wells, 34, of Huntsville, Ala. "The fact is that we can't feel safe in our homes."

Her twin, Peggy Gatley of Ferndale, said that despite getting a security system for her home shortly after her mother's death, she had experienced panic and anxiety attacks, was depressed and had so much trouble sleeping that she required medication.

"My mom and I were very close," Gatley said. "Every Saturday she would come over, and we would cut coupons and look through the sales fliers in the newspapers. I don't cut coupons on Saturday anymore."

Assistant Public Defender Rodney Warren asked Lerner to offer Cooper a chance for parole and treatment for childhood traumas, including sexual abuse.

He said Cooper was learning disabled and dropped out of school after spending three years in ninth grade.

"I'm disappointed," said Warren, who offered no defense during the trial but argued that even though Cooper confessed, the state couldn't prove his client intended to kill the woman. "It's not over."

In his confession, Cooper told Detective David MacDonald that he roamed "the neighborhood with a knife" the night of the killing, then broke into Maiolo's home through an open window while she slept, Assistant State's Attorney Laura S. Kiessling said in her closing argument Tuesday.

Cooper took a second knife from the kitchen and began "clinking the knives together, wondering what would happen if he used them on her," Kiessling said, paraphrasing the confession. "It was a bizarre fantasy."

He stabbed her 12 times, stopping only when the blade of one knife became embedded in her arm and broke off, then slit her throat as she lay bleeding on the floor.

Maiolo crawled to a bedroom telephone and called 911. Minutes later, she gave key information to Officer Jeffrey Shelton, asking only that he bring her her Bible and rosary.

The victim was active in St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in Jessup, where the congregation plans to plant a tree in her memory.

Cooper, who stole nothing, went to his girlfriend's home but wanted to watch the emergency MedEvac helicopter land.

Police matched a fingerprint from Maiolo's home to Cooper's fingerprints, which had been taken during a previous arrest.

Cooper was on one year's probation from Caroline County for marijuana possession and littering at the time Maiolo was killed.

Pub Date: 5/28/98

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