Sentences show contrast in cooperation and role

Man who helped burn body gets 2 years

another gets 100 years


News from around the Baltimore region

August 04, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Their roles in the death of a 15-year-old Woodlawn girl whose body was found burning in Pikesville's Gwynnvale Park last summer were as different as the decisions the two men made on the witness stand last week: One testified against the alleged ringleader in a plot to kill the girl; the other claimed no memory of the events that night.

Yesterday, a Baltimore County circuit judge recognized the gap in the men's involvement in the crime and in their level of cooperation with the prosecution, sentencing one to the local jail for two years, the other to state prison for 100.

Michael X. Shelton and Eric Thomas "Ock" Watkins previously pleaded guilty to their roles in Quartrina K. Johnson's death - Shelton to conspiracy, Watkins to first-degree murder - in exchange for a promise from prosecutors to seek lesser prison terms.

But only Shelton, who did not harm Quartrina but helped dispose of her body, fulfilled a pact both men made with prosecutors by testifying against two other men involved in the killing. One was Jason T. Richards, who prosecutors said crafted the plan to kill the teen and her then-13-year-old foster sister. The younger girl was not harmed in the incident.

"You deserve a lot of credit for coming in and testifying against both of these people," Judge Patrick Cavanaugh told Shelton, 19, yesterday before imposing a 50-year term with all but two years suspended, plus five years of probation. "It's not snitching when you solve a murder."

Watkins, who held Quartrina down and hit her on the head with a board at a Baltimore middle school while another man, Ogden E. "G-Wizz" Coleman, choked her, balked when called to testify against Richards last week, even though he had taken the witness stand a week earlier in Coleman's trial.

His actions "made a mockery of the whole system," Cavanaugh said.

"I don't see why you should get any more consideration than you gave Quartrina Johnson," Cavanaugh told Watkins, 19, before sentencing him to life in prison with all but 100 years suspended.

The sentencings came two days after Richards, the fourth and final man to face prosecution in Quartrina's death, was convicted of first-degree murder. Richards, 25, also was convicted of second-degree rape - an earlier charge involving the foster sister that prosecutors said motivated him to hatch a plan to kill both girls to "get rid of the witnesses."

Richards and Coleman, who was convicted of first-degree murder July 22, are scheduled for sentencing by Cavanaugh in October. Both face a maximum penalty of life without parole.

Shelton's plea deal came with a cap of 10 years in prison, while Watkins was facing up to 60 years - until he reneged on his agreement.

Watkins' lawyer, Alvin Alston, argued yesterday that his client should get some consideration for testifying against Coleman, 21, and in an earlier motions hearing in Richards' case.

"I understand he didn't live up to the bargain, but he did do something in the case," Alston said.

But prosecutor Allan J. Webster said Watkins "attempted to put a finger in the eye of the system" when he refused to cooperate during Richards' trial.

Shelton, on the other hand, did everything he was supposed to do, his lawyer, Marc L. Zayon, told Cavanaugh.

Not only did he testify in the two trials, but he told county police Detective Gary T. Childs the truth from the moment of his arrest - unlike other defendants in the case who changed their stories each time they were confronted with contradictory evidence, Zayon said. The detective vouched for Shelton from the witness stand yesterday.

Because of his cooperation, the teenager has been in protective custody for the past year, allowed out of his cell for only an hour a day, lawyers said. Still, Shelton and his family were threatened before Richards' trial, said prosecutor Lisa Dever.

"He was shaking when he had to testify against Jason Richards, and he never once said to us, `I'm not testifying,'" she said.

Quartrina's mother, Quarnoda Sellers, told Cavanaugh in a letter read in court that her daughter's death "hurts me to my heart." She said after the hearing that Shelton's sentence is not enough.

"He still helped place her on that ground to be burned up," she said.

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