Cowdery's killer is sentenced

Judge gives Whitworth life in prison for shooting wounded officer last year

Possibility of parole sought

He also is given 65 years to be served concurrently for assault, other charges

May 24, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Saying she cannot let this "bold, brazen, heartless cop killer" ever walk the streets again, Baltimore Circuit Judge Marcella A. Holland sentenced Howard "Wee" Whitworth yesterday to life in prison without parole for executing police Agent Michael J. Cowdery Jr. last year as he lay wounded on a city street.

She also sentenced him to another life sentence for shooting Cowdery's partner, Detective Ronald A. Beverly, twice when the two engaged in a running shootout in the rain after Whitworth killed Cowdery the night of March 12 last year.

"For someone to be so callous to shoot another person at such a close, explosive range," said Holland, raising her voice above sobs from those in the courtroom, most of whom were Cowdery and Whitworth family members and police. "And, but for the grace of God, he would have taken another police officer's life."

Holland told the court she had watched Cowdery's father, Philadelphia police Detective Michael J. Cowdery Sr., listen every day in the courtroom as the details of the murder were revealed during the three-week trial in March.

"I could see the pain on the father's face day in and day out. I could not imagine how to bury a child," Holland said. "Mr. Cowdery, I'm sorry - there is no answer why."

She said only Whitworth, 28, knows why he shot Cowdery, 31, in the leg, then walked over to him on an empty street and fired a bullet into his head as he lay on the ground.

Whitworth took the stand during his trial and said he didn't kill Cowdery, nor exchange fire with Beverly.

"He didn't kill nobody," Whitworth's mother, Vera Coleman, said yesterday. "It'll all come out in his appeal."

In addition to two life sentences, the judge sentenced Whitworth to 65 years in jail, to be served concurrently, for crimes including assault and various drug and handgun charges.

Cowdery, 59, addressed the court yesterday to make a victim-impact statement. He stood in the witness box and stared into Whitworth's eyes.

"The night you separated my son's body from his soul, you were a coward," Cowdery said in an even voice. "Life for you behind prison walls is a death sentence itself."

Cowdery told the court that his daughter, India, is left without her best friend, and his wife, Constance, is left with a broken heart.

"Birthdays are now spent at cemeteries," Cowdery said. "Holidays are a chore."

Whitworth, whose hands were cuffed behind his back, stared back at Cowdery with no expression. He was wearing a short-sleeved white T-shirt, exposing a crude tattoo of praying hands on his left inner arm.

Whitworth's lawyer, Harun Shabazz, pleaded with Holland for the possibility of parole, saying the real cause of the killing is Baltimore's drug culture.

"As tragic as it is, this is a typical situation in Baltimore City," Shabazz said. "Drugs claiming a life."

Holland snapped back at him: "This is not a typical case.

"The defense has tried to lay blame on the city's drug problem," Holland continued. "Frankly, I'm tired of the hearing about the drug problem. There are thousands and thousands of people - criminals - who have drug problems and have not wreaked the havoc this man has."

Cowdery, who had a degree in economics from Hampton University in Virginia, joined the Baltimore police in July 1996.

The night Cowdery was killed, he and his three partners - Beverly, Robert Jackson and Tiffany Walker - were cruising Harford Road about 10 p.m. when they came across two men outside a Chinese carryout who looked like they were dealing drugs.

The plainclothes officers walked toward the men, their badges extended, saying, "Police." They began an interview, asking the men what they were doing, why they were there.

Minutes later, Walker saw a man approach from the left, and when he was 10 to 15 feet away, he pulled out a silver handgun.

"Gun!" she screamed. The man fired once, hitting Cowdery in the leg. Everyone scattered.

The shooter then walked over to Cowdery, grabbed Cowdery's head by his hooded sweat shirt, put the muzzle of his .357-caliber Magnum just above Cowdery's ear and pulled the trigger.

Prosecutor Donald Giblin told the court yesterday he did not want to revisit the "excruciatingly sad" details of the case. He told the judge that Whitworth showed no remorse, and if he finds redemption, it should be in an 8-by-12-foot maximum security cell.

"This is a good day because justice is served," Giblin said, "but there will never be a great day for the Cowderys."

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