Judge denies request for new murder sentence

Man convicted in death of his former fiancee

Anne Arundel

November 14, 2003|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel Circuit judge has denied a request to modify the lengthy sentence of a Lansdowne man convicted in 1994 of first-degree murder.

In tearful testimony before Judge Pamela L. North yesterday afternoon, Gregory Edward Byrd, 40, asked for a reduction in his sentence for the shooting death of his former fiancee, 23-year-old Loretta Lynn Shifflett, on May 17, 1993.

Byrd shot Shifflett five times, leaving her to die in her mother's arms. The crime took place three months after Shifflett broke off her engagement to Byrd.

Although North acknowledged that Byrd has made progress in prison, she said the nature of the crime gave her no reason to modify his 40-year sentence. "This crime was very premeditated," she said.

Byrd's mandatory release date will remain 2025.

Byrd requested a reduction in his sentence under a much-debated Maryland law that gives defendants the right to a sentence modification hearing anytime after their original conviction. Maryland is the only state with such a law.

Addressing North and at least 20 of Shifflett's family members and friends, Byrd read a statement expressing his regret.

"I know they don't want to hear it, but I'm sorry -- very sorry," he said. "I took their only daughter away, something no family should have to go through."

Sobbing, he added: "I've ruined my life. I've lost every friend I ever had and devastated two families in the process. I've made a lot of bad choices, but I'll be paying for this one for the rest of my life -- no matter where I am."

Byrd's attorney, T. Joseph Touhey, argued -- as he did in Byrd's 1994 trial, before a different judge -- that the shooting was not planned.

"He was in emotional turmoil, under the influence of alcohol and he had lost his love," Touhey said.

Only Byrd's mother, Darlene Byrd, spoke on his behalf.

"The sentence he is serving is ours as well as his," she said, her hands and voice trembling. "My husband and I are not getting any younger. All I ask is that you please give me some hope that he will come home and be our son again."

The most wrenching testimony came from the prosecution's side, including statements from Shifflett's niece and nephew, who were playing in the victim's yard when she was killed.

"I was little back then," said John Shifflett, 14. "But nothing can make me stop hearing those shots."

Maryland's sentence modification law has long been the target of many in the legal community, particularly advocates for victims' rights, mainly because it puts no limit on the number of times a defendant is allowed to ask for a modification hearing.

Anne Seymour -- director of Washington-based Justice Solutions, a nonprofit victim- and community-safety organization -- said, "It's not being honest with the victims. Most of them -- and the public -- do not expect a sentence to be temporary."

John Shifflett, the victim's brother, agreed:

"Today, it felt like we were going to my sister's funeral all over again. The law is cruel. It brings everything back for victims, just like it all happened yesterday," he said.

Still, he said, he and his family are relieved that North denied Byrd's request.

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