Annapolis man gets 10 years in death of girlfriend's toddler

Sentence comes after one of his statements was thrown out on an arrest technicality


Anne Arundel County prosecutors settled for what might be as little as five years in prison for a man who admitted causing the death of his girlfriend's toddler, after his statement to Annapolis police was thrown out because detectives arrested him in a neighboring county without a local law enforcement officer present.

In a plea agreement that ended the case yesterday, Gerald E. Parker, 25, the live-in boyfriend of an Annapolis mother, accepted a 10-year sentence in the death Jan. 6 of 18-month-old Azakia Tynadra Mitchell.

Parker entered an Alford plea, in which he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him of child abuse resulting in death. He will be eligible for parole consideration in five years. The maximum sentence for that conviction is 30 years in prison, and court records show sentencing guidelines of 15 to 25 years.

"If you think for one minute that I feel good about this, you are mistaken, greatly mistaken," Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione said after the hearing.

According to prosecutors, Parker abandoned his girlfriend's home the night of Jan. 6, leaving this note on their bed: "I will be back Sharmaine. I had to leave for a second." Sharmaine Williams found Azakia dead the next morning. Parker never returned.

Police, who cited Parker for trespassing late Jan. 6 when he tried to get his car at an impound lot, located him Jan. 9 at his mother's home in Lusby, Calvert County, prosecutors said.

Outside the Lusby house, he told police that his girlfriend's two daughters, whom he had been baby-sitting, were asleep when he left at 9 p.m. Jan. 6.

On Jan. 9, he willingly returned to Annapolis with investigators. In a statement made there but later ruled inadmissible, Parker said he dropped Azakia on her head and she bled from the nose, Ragione said.

Judge Michael E. Loney wrote last month that the detectives were wrong to apprehend Parker in Lusby without calling Calvert County authorities and waiting for a local law enforcement officer to arrive.

"We're pretty comfortable with what our officers did," Annapolis police spokesman Officer Hal Dalton said later. He said investigators feared that Parker would flee his mother's home if they waited in the rural area for local authorities to meet them, although Parker had waited at his mother's house for Annapolis police to arrive to question him. "Another judge, another day, it might have been decided differently," Dalton said.

"Came crunch time, the detectives felt it was an emergency. ... Months later, the judge didn't feel the emergency circumstances were met," Dalton said. He said the outcome of the case was "probably the best we were going to get anyway."

Byron L. Warnken, a University of Baltimore law professor who has handled police cases, said, "It sounds to me that the judge was probably right." He noted that because the judge is choosing between sets of facts, such decisions can go either way. State law says that there must be an emergency or imminent public danger for police to apprehend a person outside their jurisdiction without someone from the local law enforcement agency there, he said.

Ragione said a medical examiner could have testified that the child's injuries were too severe to have been caused by being dropped. Azakia had a collapsed right lung, internal bleeding and head injuries that led to brain swelling, as well as other bruises, some of which were a few days old and healing, he said.

But he also had an imperfect case. Williams, the mother, came home from work shortly after 11 p.m. Jan. 6 and kissed her children, so she was alone with them during the time in which Azakia died, Ragione said. A medical examiner estimated that the child was fatally injured about 12 hours before she was pronounced dead at 11:37 a.m. on Jan. 7. Williams also had lied to police initially, telling them that Parker was home early Jan. 7 and the children were awake and playing, Ragione said.

In the court hearing, Ragione did not mention Williams' initial statement. Ragione said Williams told police she got up at 9 a.m. Jan. 7, and that her 4-year-old daughter, Avakia, told her Azakia was asleep. Checking the younger child at 11 a.m., Williams "found her to be blue, cold to the touch and not breathing," Ragione said. Williams quickly left the courtroom as the hearing ended.

"I think the plea itself is a fair one," Parker's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Palan, said. She said that Parker's former wife had described him as a good father to their two children. Parker did not address the judge.

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