In tearful testimony, a former City Cafe employee admitted in court yesterday his role in the shooting death of owner John P. Darda and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
In pleading guilty to first-degree murder yesterday, Derrick Bernard Quarles, 20, apologized to Darda's family for the killing before Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard sentenced him.
"I just want to say I'm sorry about what happened," Quarles said, crying. "To my family and theirs just, I just got ... caught up with the wrong people. I didn't mean to hurt John. He always ... treated me right, gave me respect. I gave him respect. I'm just sorry. That's all I can say."
Quarles was the second man sentenced in Darda's murder. On Tuesday, trigger man Jamaha Eason, 18, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 40 years. His older brother, Kion Marcus Eason, awaits trial.
Darda, 43, a father of three, was killed Feb. 5 as he walked to a bank carrying $7,500. No money was taken. Police said Darda asked Quarles, a busboy at the popular Cathedral Street cafe, to accompany him to the bank for protection.
Before walking with Darda to the bank, police said, Quarles called the Eason brothers to alert them that "it was time to do the robbery." When confronted on the street, Darda resisted and hit one of the robbers with an umbrella, police said. He was shot once in the head.
During testimony Tuesday, relatives and friends of Jamaha Eason implied that his older brother and Quarles had coerced him into the attempted robbery. In an interview, Jamaha Eason's mother, Robin Lovick, said the youth was a good kid who excelled in football and graduated from high school while incarcerated, fulfilling a promise to her and his father.
But yesterday, court testimony and Quarles' relatives suggested that Jamaha and Kion Eason were the ringleaders. Quarles and Darda were close, his family said, so he wouldn't have purposely orchestrated the events that led to Darda's death.
"My son regrets what happened," Sandra Quarles testified. "He knew what was right from wrong. Although he was threatened over time, I'm sorry he couldn't come to me with this matter. He got mixed up with the wrong crowd."
Gino Cardinale, Darda's half-brother and cafe co-owner, testified about Quarles' betrayal and vowed to be at all of his parole hearings.
"My brother hired this young man, took him under his wing," Cardinale said. "He saved his job many times when I thought he should be fired. This young man worked there because my brother saw a person who he thought was a good person inside and wanted to help. John had a greater affinity for Derrick than most of the other people in his life."
Edward Quarles said his son was loved, but saw little of him. "I was not here for my son because I was serving my country for 30 years in the U.S. Special Forces," he testified.
He also testified that his son should not have been asked to escort Darda to the bank with such large sums of money, because he was not a guard.
Quarles was sentenced to life with all but 35 years suspended for first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 20 years, to be served concurrently, for use of a handgun in a crime of violence. The first five years of the latter sentence must be served without parole. He will be on probation for five years after his release.
As she did in the case of Jamaha Eason, Heard recommended Quarles for the Youthful Offenders Program. If accepted, Quarles will be sent to the Patuxent Institute Youth Program, where the length of his stay will be determined by Patuxent's review board, said his attorney, A. Dwight Pettit.
Pettit said Quarles will likely serve at least 14 to 17 1/2 years behind bars.
Darda's mother said she harbors no ill will toward the men who killed her son. "The family of these young men have my deepest sympathy," Patricia Cardinale said. "I know their mothers are terribly distraught, and I understand."