A 22-year-old Baltimore County man with a record of violent crimes and a pending city murder charge was sentenced yesterday to life plus 20 years in prison for what a judge said amounted to the "attempted execution" of a 17-year-old Randallstown boy.
Ronnell Vernon Cole was released from prison July 7 last year - two days before he allegedly shot a man to death in Northwest Baltimore, and two months before the Baltimore County incident that resulted in yesterday's sentence, according to court and prison officials.
"Mr. Cole presents a very grave threat to public safety," Baltimore County Circuit Judge Michael J. Finifter said yesterday before imposing sentence - the maximum allowed by law for attempted first-degree murder and handgun convictions. "He has absolutely no respect, no regard for ... the safety of others."
Finifter's sentence sparked an outburst from Cole and a series of confrontations, both inside the courtroom and in the hallway, between a man identified by a prosecutor as the defendant's younger brother and the stepfather of 17-year-old victim Tim Williams.
The father of Ahmean Ross, the man fatally shot in Northwest Baltimore in July last year, said that he approved of the sentence.
"You never know what will happen in my son's case," said Haris Bilal, who attended yesterday's hearing to support Williams and his family.
Cole "won't see the outside for years. Thank God justice is alive and well," he said.
Cole, who has convictions for drug distribution, armed robbery and assault, was charged in November last year with murder in Ross' death. The defendant, whose home address is in the Gwynn Oak area of the county, is scheduled to be tried in January in Baltimore Circuit Court.
The Baltimore County incident started on Sept. 13, 2003, when Cole bumped into Williams with his bike outside a party in the 3200 block of N. Rolling Road and Williams told him he should apologize, according to court documents and prosecutor Rachel Cogen.
Others at the party broke up that argument, but as Williams and a friend were leaving the party later, Cole confronted him again, according to the documents. During the ensuing struggle, Williams was pushed to the ground. Cole stood over him and shot him four times, Cogen said.
Cole's lawyer, Janice Bledsoe, told the judge yesterday that her client, who was her student at Arbutus Middle School when she taught math there, has a history of acting impulsively. She said she believes Cole, who was in a special-education program for emotionally disturbed children, needs a structured environment to succeed and change his ways.
"I think he has the ability, your honor, to be a productive person after a period of incarceration," Bledsoe said.
Williams, now 18 and a graduate of Milford Mill Academy, had planned to join the Marine Corps, but he spent the 2 1/2 months in Maryland Shock Trauma Center and went through several surgeries, his mother, Dionne Lee, told Finifter.
"I think this is a lot for a family to go through because of somebody's senseless act," she said.
Williams is looking for a job and making plans to attend Morgan State University in the spring, Cogen said. Cole should not be rewarded just because Williams survived the shooting, she said.