Teen gets 20 years in killing

Judge gives maximum term in attempted robbery of teacher

Baltimore & Region

October 25, 2005|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

Saying he could do nothing about a jury's failure to follow the law in acquitting a Middle River teenager of murder in the February shooting of a private school educator at Towson Town Center, a Baltimore County judge handed down yesterday the maximum prison term allowed for the attempted armed robbery charge of which the teen was convicted.

Javon Clark, who turned 19 yesterday, stood expressionless as Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz announced the 20-year sentence after delivering an impassioned commentary on the case, the defendant and even the public school system.

"What's frightening about this case, to me, is that if we have to worry about students like Javon Clark, then who shouldn't we be worried about?" Levitz said, referring to testimony from the trial that the Overlea High School graduate had been a leader in the school's finance magnet program.

A jury acquitted Clark last month of first-degree murder despite instructions from the judge that to convict Clark of murder, jurors needed only to find that he had been a willing participant in the botched robbery attempt that led to the shotgun killing of William A. Bassett in the mall parking garage. The jury convicted Clark of attempted-armed robbery but found him not guilty of the murder charge.

Prosecutor Stephen Bailey asked the judge to sentence Clark to the maximum of 20 years, rather than a prison term in line with state sentencing guidelines that recommend five to 10 years. He urged Levitz to keep in mind what he said was obvious to everyone except the jury: "But for Javon Clark, Bill Bassett would be alive today."

Bassett, 58, a veteran science teacher and administrator at St. Paul's School, was killed Feb. 18 on the fifth floor of Towson Town Center's parking garage.

Lawyers on both sides agreed that while Clark did not pull the trigger, he drove the alleged gunman, John E. Kennedy Jr., 18, that evening in search of someone to rob and was still at the wheel as the pair fled.

Clark apologized "for the crime that happened" and said he thinks daily about what he did. "If I could take it back," he said quietly, "believe me, I would."

The judge wondered what Clark had learned from his family and questioned what the school system teaches about values if a student looked upon as a role model could commit such a crime.

Outside the courtroom, Clark's family and friends expressed anger at the judge's remarks.

"The only thing he didn't come right out and say is that African-Americans don't raise their children right, that we don't put morals in our children," said Nathaniel Brooks, a minister at the Clark family's church, the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore.

Clark will be eligible for a parole hearing in 10 years. Kennedy, of Essex, is scheduled to go to trial in December. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in his case.

jennifer.mcmenamin@baltsun.com

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