2 brothers get 5 years in jail for knife fight

Men reach plea agreements in row that left 1 dead, 1 injured

Judge calls incident `incredibly sad'

Anne Arundel

October 01, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

Two brothers were sentenced yesterday to five years in jail each for their roles in a knife fight last February that left one man dead and another seriously injured.

Anne Arundel County prosecutors initially charged William Russell Ross, 21, of Ridgely with second-degree murder in the death of Roger J. Harrison, 20, of Glen Burnie, who was stabbed once in the chest during a fight at Pleasantville Park in Ferndale.

But under the terms of a plea agreement that would limit his jail time to five years, Ross pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Circuit Court Judge Nancy Davis-Loomis gave him the maximum penalty for such a charge, 10 years in jail, but suspended half the sentence.

His brother, Bryan Francis Ross Jr., 23, was first charged with attempted second-degree murder in the incident, but he also reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Bryan Ross pleaded guilty to first-degree assault in the stabbing of 21-year-old John Wesley Tomer III, who suffered multiple wounds to his upper body in the same brawl that resulted in Harrison's death.

The judge sentenced Bryan Ross to 20 years in jail, but suspended three-quarters of his sentence. She also gave each of the brothers five years of supervised probation.

Conflicting accounts provided by those involved in the case - and the fact that witnesses were ready to testify that Harrison came to the fight armed with a baseball bat - led prosecutors to allow the pleas because a jury trial could have led to their acquittal, said Assistant State's Attorney Kelly M. Poma, who handled both cases.

Bryan Ross' attorney, David M. Simpson, said yesterday that the brawl resulted when two groups of drunken men arranged to fight at the Ferndale park.

"Both sides obviously arrived with an idea that things were going to occur [that] were more than just a fist fight," Simpson said. "Everybody had been drinking a lot - they collided mid-park, and it was a free-for-all."

The Ross brothers, who defense lawyers said have had problems with alcohol, will have to submit to random drug testing during their probationary periods.

After hearing statements from several members of the Harrison and Ross families, many of whom sobbed in court, the judge called the situation "incredibly sad." She said the two brothers should consider themselves lucky to be alive and take responsibility for their actions.

"Whatever this court does, you are fortunate because you are standing," Davis-Loomis told the defendants. "It is just a matter of fate as to who lived and who died, but you both made that decision to be there that night."

Roger Harrison's mother, Nancy, who read a victim impact statement to the court, said she cries every morning and most nights when she realizes that her son is never coming home.

Nevertheless, Harrison met with the Ross family after sentencing to console them and to say that she was satisfied with the judge's decision.

"I wanted [them] to know that I was not angry," she said. "Hopefully, the boys that were left behind will learn something from it in the future."

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