A Baltimore man pleaded guilty to murder yesterday -- four years after excessive trial delays led to his release on a previous murder conviction in one of a batch of poorly handled cases that led to calls for reform of the city's crowded courts.
William Torianto Flowers, 26, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Charles Bryant, 65, a car mechanic who was fatally beaten Valentine's Day last year. His plea agreement calls for him to be sentenced to 25 years in prison.
In 1999, after his previous case was postponed 17 times and a police evidence file was lost, prosecutors agreed to a deal with Flowers that allowed him to plead guilty to second-degree murder in the shooting death of a man in a dispute about a woman.
Flowers was sentenced to the three years he had served while waiting to be tried, as well as 16 years that were suspended. The day after sentencing, the missing file was found in a folder for another case.
After Flowers' case and other similar cases were brought to light, changes in court procedures were made, among them improved methods for expediting major felony cases. But the problem of heavy caseloads and frequent postponements persists.
Flowers' trial in the Bryant case was postponed nine times for reasons including problems locating witnesses and changes in prosecutors. Judge John M. Glynn called the delays a "disgrace" last week as he denied a prosecutor's request for a 10th postponement.
Glynn also denied Monday a request by Flowers' attorney, Audre Davis, to have the case thrown out because of the delays, ruling that they were not egregious enough to warrant dismissal.
Lois Davidson, Bryant's youngest daughter, expressed mixed emotions about yesterday's outcome.
"I am not pleased with the amount of time he got, but I'm pleased this case finally came to a close," said Davidson, 44. "I know about his history."
At the time of Bryant's murder, Flowers was on probation from the first murder and was out on bail for a heroin-dealing charge from Sept. 11, 2001.
His agreement calls for a sentence of 25 years in prison for Bryant's murder, violating his probation from the first murder and the drug charge. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 2.
If Flowers did not take a plea agreement, he would have faced 86 years in prison. Sixteen of those years would have been for violating his probation from the first murder.
Bryant was killed as he tried to repair Flowers' girlfriend's car, a white 1999 Honda Accord, court records show. Flowers and Marquita Thomas had been dating for about 10 years and had a 3-year-old child together, according to Mark Cohen, who prosecuted the case.
On Feb. 14, 2002, Flowers saw Bryant in the Honda about 6:15 p.m. and thought he was trying to steal it, according to court records.
He said, "Why did you steal my girlfriend's car?" before pulling Bryant out of the driver's seat and beating him severely. He tried to run Bryant over with the car, records show.
Bryant died March 7, 2002, after spending three weeks in the hospital. A medical examiner found that his death was a homicide, caused by complications from blunt-force injuries.
Bryant's family said he was a fun-loving man who always lit up a room. He and his wife, Ethel, were childhood sweethearts.
"He loved to work on cars," said Davidson, his daughter. "Unfortunately, that's what took him away from us."
A few weeks before Flowers was set free in 1999, a city judge threw out first-degree murder charges against four men who waited nearly three years for trial.