Man sentenced to life in prison for killing Aberdeen store clerks

April 10, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A 27-year-old Havre de Grace man was sentenced yesterday to life without the possibility of parole for killing two Aberdeen convenience store clerks in 1999, a crime described by the judge in the case as "an inexplicable act of violence."

In sentencing Waylon Tenoco Wesley, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Cox said she considered his criminal record, the violent nature of the crime and its impact on the victims' families.

Cox sentenced Wesley to concurrent life terms on two counts of first-degree murder and assault, and a concurrent 10-year term for a handgun violation in the killing of Melissa Pennington, 18, and Nancy Atkinson, 30, at the Wawa Food Market in the 200 block of N. Philadelphia Road.

She also sentenced him to a concurrent life sentence for the assault on and attempted murder of Dale Keyes, a customer who was in the store when the fatal shots were fired the night of March 1, 1999.

Wesley declined to comment and showed no emotion as Cox announced the verdict. But he turned and called "I love you" to relatives as sheriff's deputies led him from the courtroom.

Wesley's grandmother, Lois McClaine, said afterward that she is confident he will be cleared when the case is reviewed on appeal.

"I'm sorry for what happened but they got the wrong guy," McClaine said. "God will be his judge."

One victim's mother called the sentence the best of all possible outcomes. "I'm against the death penalty, so I couldn't have wished for a better decision," said Patricia Atkinson. "I thought the judge was very fair."

Prosecutors said Wesley had been charged with 10 offenses before age 18 and was found guilty of five of them. He also had been convicted of 13 offenses as an adult, including robbery, assault and battery, said Assistant State's Attorney Vernon Gentile.

Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty but reversed that decision March 2 after talking to the victims' families. The case was moved to Baltimore County at Wesley's request.

Wesley's lawyers asked Cox yesterday for a sentence that would give him a chance to win parole, arguing that he had a troubled upbringing.

"We're asking for a sentence that does not eliminate all hope," said Nancy Cohen, his lawyer.

Prosecutors acknowledged that they had no murder weapon, no fingerprints or DNA evidence and no eyewitnesses to the killings. Cox convicted Wesley on March 21 after hearing evidence that included a confession Wesley made to an acquaintance during a series of conversations taped March 11, 1999.

Cox said she was convinced of Wesley's guilt by the tapes and by testimony from a witness who saw him outside the store a short time before the killings.

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