Calling the trial one of the "saddest and most emotional" he has presided over, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge yesterday sentenced a West Baltimore man to two life terms for setting his girlfriend's house on fire and killing her 61-year-old grandmother.
William Leroy Spencer, 24, of the 2400 block of Presbury St. showed no emotion as Judge Thomas E. Noel read the terms of his sentence, which included an additional 55 years for lesser charges.
Spencer was convicted Oct. 29 of felony murder, attempted murder and arson in a blaze that killed Sandra Jeffries on July 15 last year.
Calling the sadness of the crimes "overwhelming," Noel told Spencer yesterday, "I was shocked during testimony. You seem to lack any appreciation for the consequences of your actions. What you did was off the scale. It's rare I say anything like this."
A group of about six of Jeffries' relatives smiled and quietly embraced as Noel read the sentence.
In a victim impact statement, one of Jeffries' five daughters told the judge that her mother's death was especially tragic because it happened just before several important family events.
"I was married, and she wasn't there to give me away," Renee Alves Sanders, 44, read from a statement written on notebook paper. "The holidays weren't the same. There's something missing. He [Spencer] doesn't know how hard it is to explain to kids why their great-grandmother isn't coming back."
Lashelle Bryant, 24, who was Spencer's girlfriend when he set her house on fire, was not present. Bryant could not take time off from her new job, said Sanders, Bryant's aunt.
Spencer never admitted to the crime and showed no remorse during the weeklong trial in October.
When Noel asked yesterday whether he had anything to say, Spencer, handcuffed and wearing a baggy black T-shirt, quickly said, "No, sir."
The deadly blaze occurred on a Sunday afternoon, as Jeffries was baby-sitting great-grandchildren in the 400 block of S. Parrish St.
After an argument with Bryant, an enraged Spencer left the house screaming that he would come back and set it on fire.
No one believed him.
"It was a minor argument, it seemed," said Assistant State's Attorney April Gluckstern, who prosecuted the case. "No one took him seriously."
But about 20 minutes later, Spencer returned with a 16-ounce juice bottle filled with gasoline. He poured the gasoline on Bryant's head and inside the house as he blocked the front door.
As Bryant ran out the back door, Spencer lighted a match and flames erupted, Gluckstern said. Jeffries was enveloped in flames as she sat on the couch.
On fire, Jeffries ran from the house and family members tried to help her. She was taken to John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where she died 64 days later.
Jeffries, who lived in the 700 block of N. Hilton St., had five children, 14 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Gluckstern said Spencer turned down numerous plea agreements, including one in which he would have served no more than 40 years in prison.
Spencer had a drug conviction in 1998 and had assaulted his girlfriend two weeks before the fire, causing injures that required stitches, Gluckstern said.
"I am so happy that he will never, ever cause this pain for anyone again," Sanders said.