A city school police officer who pleaded guilty yesterday to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a teen-ager he fatally shot in the back of the head nearly two years ago might have avoided prison time because of testimony from the boy's father.
Marlon Rene Lynch, 28, who was on trial in the shooting death of Samuel Fitzgerald, 14, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years probation by Circuit Judge John N. Prevas yesterday.
The boy was killed April 6, 2002, outside Leith Walk Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore, and a witness testified that Fitzgerald was running away when he was shot by the officer.
The officer said he had been attacked by two teen-agers, including Fitzgerald, before firing his gun.
Prevas said he partly based his decision to place Lynch on probation on the testimony of Fitzgerald's father, Merle Fitzgerald.
"Basically, [the father] took the stand ... and said as long as there was an admission by [Lynch] that he was wrong, he wasn't all that concerned about the sentence," Prevas said. "He didn't say send him [to jail], he didn't say don't send him; he was more concerned about getting an admission of wrongdoing."
Lynch's lawyer, Warren A. Brown, apologized for Lynch, saying he had advised the officer not to comment because of pending civil litigation related to the shooting against Lynch.
City schools spokeswoman Edie House declined to say whether Lynch, of the 3500 block of Woodring Road, is still employed by the school system, noting the lawsuit.
Lynch's plea came as jurors were in their third day of deliberations in the second-degree murder trial, and Brown said he wasn't willing to risk a lengthy jail sentence for his client.
"We came to the state's attorney's office this morning to resolve this in a way that Marlon would not go to prison," Brown said yesterday, standing outside Courthouse East. "The notion of a police officer going to prison is obnoxious. Three years probation - obviously for us, this is a win.
"The biggest hurdle for us, of course, is the young man was shot in the back of the head. But [Lynch] was facing 30 years in prison, and that was not acceptable to us."
Assistant State's Attorney Mark P. Cohen, who prosecuted the case, did not criticize the sentence.
"The state is satisfied with what the judge decided," Cohen said. "The judge is an experienced jurist. ... In this case, we do feel the officer went over the line; he wasn't justified in what he did."
Fitzgerald, a freshman at Northern High School, and Robert Smith, now 17, were standing behind the elementary school smoking marijuana and drinking about 1 a.m., police said, when Lynch encountered them during his rounds of city schools.
Brown argued that Lynch was struck before his gun discharged.
Smith testified Tuesday that neither he nor Fitzgerald struck the officer.