Saying she favored an even harsher punishment, an Anne Arundel County judge sentenced yesterday a Gambrills man to 55 years in prison for helping to murder childhood acquaintance Joseph Aaron Demarest over drug money seven years ago.
Circuit Judge Pamela L. North told Christopher Allen Bolen, 24, that she would abide by a deal his lawyers had reached with prosecutors that limited his sentence at 55 years.
But she called Bolen's actions "very cowardly" and said she was baffled about his reasons for helping Stefan Tyson Bell commit one of the most premeditated murders she has encountered.
Bell, 25, was convicted last month of stabbing and beating the teen-ager and burying him alive instead of paying him for 2 pounds of marijuana. A day before the killing, the pair had dug a shallow grave in a popular four-wheeling area near the Prince George's County line.
"This was not even your debt," North said to Bolen, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and testified at Bell's trial that he helped bury Demarest alive after his friend stabbed and beat him. "Why you felt compelled to participate is completely beyond me."
Bell will be sentenced Nov. 7.
The judge made the comments at the conclusion of an emotional four-hour hearing, during which Demarest's parents and sister told the court of the agony they went through in the years after the Gambrills teen disappeared Sept. 3, 1996.
For four years, Demarest was listed as a missing person. Police reopened the case as a homicide in November 2000, and Bolen and Bell were arrested on murder charges in January.
Sharon Demarest, the victim's mother, urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Bolen. "He's had the last six years of his life, going on like nothing happened, while my son's body was crammed into a hole," she said.
Bolen's lawyers argued that he should receive a lighter penalty because he had been pressured by Bell to participate. A psychologist and several friends and relatives of the defendant testified that Bolen was a shy and passive "follower" with no propensity for violence.
But North said she did not believe that Bolen had helped because he feared for his life, and she noted that he could have prevented the crime by calling police or warning Demarest.
Bolen's inaction in the days leading to the murder "makes him substantially blameworthy," she said. "He was really off [to] a really amoral start, way before the crime."
Members of the Bolen and Demarest families sobbed as the judge announced the sentence of life in prison, with all but 55 years suspended.
Barbara Ann Bolen, the defendant's mother, collapsed after leaving the courtroom. She was treated by paramedics.
Members of the Demarest family said the sentence had brought them closer to achieving closure.
"I just feel that this has somehow given my brother honor again," said Rachel Cabrejo, the victim's sister. "He was completely dishonored in a way no one should be."