As relatives of a Columbia teen-ager slain in a rough Pasadena neighborhood held hands, an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge sentenced yesterday one of two Glen Burnie men convicted of his murder to 50 years in prison.
"That a young man like you would spend a substantial part of your life incarcerated is such a tragedy," Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. told Keith Lamont Mallett, 21, before sentencing him in what prosecutors have described as a robbery gone awry. The crime, said the judge, "boggles the mind."
Mallett and his cousin, Gerald Carvell Wallace, 24, were convicted of first-degree murder and related charges in the October 2000 shooting death of Jerome Isaiah Johnson, 18, who came to the Freetown community to see his girlfriend. Prosecutors maintained that the cousins targeted the stranger in the neighborhood, and said Wallace was supposed to hold a gun to Johnson's head while Mallett robbed him. But Wallace slugged the teen-ager in the head with the gun and it went off, killing Johnson.
Heller said he was troubled that Mallett, who had his first contact with juvenile authorities when he was about 9 years old, was on probation at the time of Johnson's death for illegally having a handgun in 1998.
He sentenced Mallett for first-degree murder to life in prison, with all but 40 years suspended. A 10-year sentence for attempted armed robbery is to be served at the same time. But Heller added a 10-year term for using a handgun, to be served after the murder sentence.
Mallett's lawyers said they intend to appeal.
More than a dozen of Johnson's relatives hugged each other outside of the courtroom after the sentencing, but said they did not want to talk about the case because Wallace's sentencing had been postponed.
Johnson, a Hammond High School graduate working as a mattress salesman, was tossing pebbles at his girlfriend's window when he was attacked.
"I think it was a very fair sentence," said Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen E. Rogers, who sought a prison term of life without parole but argued only for a long sentence that was "fair and just."
She had depicted Mallett as a man who should not have been in Freetown and never held a job of consequence since quitting high school at 16.
But Assistant Public Defender Mary Jo Livingston, one of Mallett's two lawyers, countered that Mallett lived in Freetown with his girlfriend and had left school to work to support a child he fathered. A laborer, he most recently worked stuffing envelopes.
In tears, Mallett's mother, Wendy Eldridge, asked the judge for mercy: "His son needs him in his life. I need him in my life."
"I believe he did not participate in this murder," Livingston said.
Earlier in the day, Heller sentenced an Odenton teen-ager to 30 years in prison in an unrelated killing, the March 2000 execution-style shooting of Dwayne Alvin Macklin, 26, who was found dead in a Meade Village alley. Stanley Isaiah Johnson Jr., 18, who maintained his innocence, was sentenced to 25 years for second-degree murder, followed by five years for using a handgun in the slaying.
The long sentence satisfied Macklin's relatives, several of whom wept in court.
"I just want to go hug my children," said Angelica Macklin, the victim's wife. She said her husband, a Joppatowne High School graduate and former owner of a limousine company, was a day-trader and recorded music.
The victim's mother, Jackie Macklin, said the killer used her dead son's cell phone to call her shortly after the fatal shooting and coldly say, "We got D." She described her son as a smart, cheerful man. She said she still listens to his laugh on a recording. She said she wanted a long sentence for his killer.
But Johnson denied being the killer, saying in court, "I'm sorry about what happened to Mr. Macklin, but I had nothing to do with his death." An appeal is planned, said his father.