A Baltimore prosecutor grudgingly agreed to a 10-year prison term for an East Baltimore man charged with two murders, drug distribution and several violations of probation, saying that the cases were marred with flaws all too common in drug-related crimes.
Had David Thornton been convicted of each charge, he could have been sentenced to life plus 84 years in prison, his defense attorney said.
"I'm not happy with 10 years without parole," Assistant State's Attorney Samuel Yee said during the sentencing hearing.
"But I believe, in my discretion as a prosecutor for the city of Baltimore, that it is appropriate to get this and get him off the street so maybe he can't kill anyone for the next eight years while he is in prison."
Yee and defense attorney Richard C.B. Woods told Circuit Judge John M. Glynn that they developed the plea agreement together after a city jury could not reach a verdict in the stronger of the two murder cases.
Thornton, 31, of the 400 block of E. Lanvale St., pleaded guilty in January to two counts of second-degree murder, one count each of conspiracy to commit murder and possession with intent to distribute heroin, two counts of using a handgun in a crime of violence and violation of probation.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Thornton will serve two consecutive prison terms of five years without parole for the handgun violations.
The murder charges and the distribution charge each will carry a 10-year sentence, and the parole violation will carry an additional eight years, but all those terms will be served at the same time.
Woods said in court that he believed the state's attorney's office "did as much as they could with these cases," adding that, in his opinion, the murder cases would never result in verdicts, even if they were tried 100 times.
Glynn said the crimes were "tragic" - and that it was equally tragic, but necessary, to work out plea agreements in problematic cases such as Thornton's. Yee said the families of the two murder victims did not oppose the deal.
The fatal shootings took place about two weeks apart in October 2004 in East Baltimore near Johns Hopkins Hospital. Yee said he believed that the shootings stemmed from drug turf wars.
Tanash Kimble, age unknown, was shot in the head and torso Oct. 15, 2004, in the 800 block of N. Bond St.
Witnesses identified the shooters as "Trigger Man" or "Tricky Man" and "Tweedy Bird," according to charging documents. Later, those witnesses picked Thornton out of a photo lineup and said that he uses the first two street names, the court documents state.
Roger Cannon, 35, was shot in the head and throat Oct. 30, 2004, in the doorway of a liquor store in the 400 block of N. Washington St.
The store, K&K Liquors, has a digital surveillance camera that "shows the murder as it unfolds to include the individuals responsible," according to charging documents. By talking to other officers and using databases, investigators identified a suspect as Thornton, the court documents state.
A city jury heard evidence in the Kimble killing during a November trial and was split on its verdict.
During yesterday's sentencing hearing, Yee recounted the obstacles he would have faced had he taken Thornton to trial on the two murder charges:
One witness "already risked his life once" after being threatened in jail, Yee said. Another witness died. A videotape of a murder scene did not reveal the perpetrator's face. The eyewitness identification of the defendant was given by two convicted felons.
Yee added that publicity about officer credibility jeopardized Thornton's drug distribution case, which resulted from a "buy-and-bust" in September 2004, with only a police officer as a witness.
Some officers in the Southwestern District are facing allegations of rape and planting drugs on suspects, and two other officers are being tried in federal court on charges that they sold drugs while on duty.
Thornton has been a frequent defendant in Baltimore courts, and Yee said he believed he "had beaten a lot of charges." Now, Yee said, at least Thornton will have two murder convictions on his record.