A 33-year-old Baltimore man was sentenced yesterday in federal court to life in prison for the bludgeoning death of an elderly Bolton Hill man during a 1998 carjacking -- a crime that stunned the mid-town community.
The jail term imposed on Robert Lane in U.S. District Court -- which under the federal system carries no possibility of parole -- was part of a plea bargain reached in July, in which Lane agreed to accept the sentence and prosecutors agreed to drop efforts to seek the death penalty in the case.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake also sentenced Lane to a total of 55 years, to be served concurrently, for three other carjackings and ordered him to pay nominal restitution of $1,357 to two victims out of his prison earnings.
Lane's former girlfriend and accomplice in the carjackings, Janet Hope King, has also pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced next week.
In a brief written statement he read in court, Lane apologized for a violent crime spree from December 1997 to January 1998 in which he admitted to a home invasion and seven carjackings and car thefts, including the one that resulted in the death of 86-year-old Ernest Hildebrandt.
"My nerves are in shambles," Lane said, adding: "I know I've done these acts of violence. I wish I could undo them. All I want the victims and their families to know is that I am a human being with problems.
"I am very sorry, and I do feel remorse," he said.
One of Lane's attorneys, federal public defender Joseph A. Balter, said in court that Lane suffered from a "pernicious drug habit" and mental illness that led to several suicide attempts. Balter declined to elaborate after the hearing.
Balter said Lane was born in Korea to a Korean woman and U.S. serviceman who were not married and that he never knew his father. Balter said Lane showed early promise as an athlete and scholar but that a "vicious cycle took over his life" in his mid-teens.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said prosecutors believed a life term was "appropriate in this case."
Lane beat Hildebrandt in the face and head with a hammer 14 times after Hildebrandt had parked his 1980 Chevrolet Citation in a Bolton Hill alley, leaving his left eye ruptured, according to court papers. Hildebrandt died of his injuries eight days later.
Lane and King then took Hildebrandt's car and wallet, using the money they found to buy heroin, court papers said.
Lane and King were arrested about three weeks after the carjacking while driving their last victim's car. Lane had been released from prison less than a year before Hildebrandt's killing after serving time for assaulting, robbing and abducting a woman in her car on a downtown street. Lane pleaded guilty in 1994 to one count of armed carjacking and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released Feb. 22, 1997, after he accumulated work and good-behavior credits.