James Thomas Blake, one of five people charged in a Glen Burnie gang slaying in August last year, was sentenced yesterday to 30 years in prison - a term both the judge and prosecutor called lighter than usual for a convicted first-degree murderer.
Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. noted Blake's testimony against two other defendants in the case as the main reason he suspended all but 30 years of a life sentence. Blake, 19, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in May and has since cooperated with prosecutors.
During his hourlong sentencing, Heller repeatedly called the crime senseless, saying it is "one of the more horrific" murders he has seen in his 18 years as a judge.
Mark Anthony Miller, 21, was stabbed, slashed and beaten on the head with a hammer before his body was abandoned in the dugout of a baseball field in Glen Burnie. The killing followed what has been described as a power struggle in a local gang that called itself the Crips.
According to testimony in court proceedings, Miller had identified himself as a Crips leader from another region and was making a play for a top position with the Glen Burnie gang. Like the more infamous Los Angeles gang of the same name, the Glen Burnie gang members sometimes wore articles of blue clothing, but police have said the two gangs are not linked.
The gang members had gathered for an apartment party that began Aug. 6 last year and continued into the early-morning hours when Miller was attacked.
Blake's girlfriend, Tracy C. Devilbiss, 29, was sentenced last month to 25 years for her role in the killing. She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
A 16-year-old girl was placed in the custody of juvenile authorities after she admitted to being an accessory after the fact.
Two others, Andrew Grant Handschuh, 17, and Sean Matthew Almond, 19, were found guilty after separate trials this year. Handschuh was sentenced Nov. 6 to serve 45 years of a life sentence, and Almond is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 11. The state's attorney's office is seeking a life-without-parole sentence for Almond, whom the prosecutor and the judge called the "most culpable" of all the defendants.
At yesterday's hearing, Assistant State's Attorney M. Virginia Miles credited Blake with helping to secure guilty verdicts in the Handschuh and Almond cases, calling him one of the three most cooperative defendants she has ever worked with.
Miles balanced statements such as "This murder would not have happened as successfully ... had it not been for the participation of Mr. Blake" with comments like "I cannot say anything negative about what he put into his side of the bargain."
Ann Miller, the mother of the victim, gave a teary statement during which she asked the judge to impose the harshest possible sentence.
"I pray the ones who did this will never be in peace and they will be locked up as long as the law allows," she said in court.
But prosecutor Miles and defense lawyer David Putzi both asked the judge to honor an agreement, though not a binding one, asking for a 30-year prison term for Blake.
Heller upheld the agreement, but said he had been inclined to impose a 35- or 40-year sentence before he heard Miles' statement about how cooperative Blake had been.
During the hearing, Blake's father, Robert E. Blake, said his adopted son, born to a mother addicted to crack, had been considered a miracle baby and was an active Christian for many years. The younger Blake dropped out of high school in ninth grade and turned to a life of drugs and alcohol.
James Blake told the judge he was "truly sorry for what happened" and asked for forgiveness from the victim's family.