Man pleads guilty in killing of city police detective in '02

Deal spares him death penalty

he gets two life terms - one without possibility of parole

October 20, 2004|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

A man charged in the fatal shooting of Baltimore police Detective Thomas G. Newman avoided the death penalty yesterday by entering a guilty plea and receiving two life sentences, one without the possibility of parole.

Raymond Saunders, 24, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the shooting death of Newman, 37, outside Joe's Tavern in Southeast Baltimore on Nov. 23, 2002.

In exchange for Saunders' guilty plea, prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.

Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. sentenced Saunders to life without the possibility of parole for murder, life with the possibility of parole on the conspiracy charge and 20 years for a handgun violation. Prosecutors and defense attorneys said there is almost no chance that Saunders will ever be released.

In a brief statement, Saunders apologized to Newman's family and said he was "ready to start serving a life sentence."

On Feb. 17, a jury convicted Saunders' co-defendant Jovan House of first-degree murder, sentencing him to life in prison without parole. Prosecutors in that case pursued the death penalty unsuccessfully. A third suspect, Anthony Brown, is scheduled for trial in December, but prosecutors will not pursue the death penalty.

Prosecutors originally said that the crime warranted capital punishment because two gunmen, including Saunders, acted in retaliation for Newman's testimony against Saunders' half-brother at an earlier attempted-murder trial.

The city state's attorney's office faced challenges in the Saunders case, including a dispute over whether Saunders was the driver or one of the shooters in the case and the lack of direct physical evidence linking Saunders to the murder.

In his statement to police, Saunders said that he waited in the car while two others shot Newman. The police investigation found that a .32-caliber slug recovered from Newman's body could not be positively linked to the .32-caliber handgun police believe Saunders used in the crime.

Donald Giblin, the lead prosecutor on the case, said a medical examiner concluded that Newman, who had survived a separate shooting earlier in his 12-year career in the police department, died from a total of nine bullets fired by two weapons.

Newman's family was consulted about the plea agreement, prosecutors said, but his relatives declined to speak at a news conference after the hearing. Saunders' mother also declined to be interviewed.

Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark endorsed the prosecutors' decision.

"We just want to make it very clear that we'll be following Raymond Saunders in prison to make sure that life in prison without the possibility of parole means life in prison without the possibility of parole," Clark's spokesman Matt Jablow said.

Dan Fickus, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, added: "Our concern has always been the concern of the family, and the family is particularly pleased with this decision."

Timothy M. Gunning, one of Saunders' two attorneys, said he would have challenged the idea that Newman, who was off-duty at the bar, was "in the performance of his duties" at the time of the shooting - a key element in the death-penalty statute.

Saunders signed the deal because of his worry over a possible death sentence and his deep remorse for his crimes, Gunning said.

But Newman's sister, who took the stand as the prosecutors' sole witness during the sentencing phase of the hearing, offered an emotional counterpoint to Saunders' plea, recalling the toll the fatal shooting has taken on her family.

"I tried so hard to suppress the heartache," said Rena Martin, who also described how Newman's death was to blame for her mother's subsequent stroke. "I never thought I could harbor so much hurt and hatred."

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