Man admits to string of murders, rapes

Relatives listen to litany of brutal crimes, voice mixed feelings about Hopewell's plea deal

August 12, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Sons and daughters, grandchildren and nieces, they filled the courtroom benches yesterday, steeling themselves to hear about the anguished last moments in the lives of the aged relatives whom they loved.

"Remember us," one lady hissed as Raymont Hopewell entered the courtroom in shackles and chains. Her family shushed her.

Hopewell had come to this Baltimore Circuit Court hearing to admit his guilt in a series of crimes that spanned from 1999 to last September. It took three prosecutors and 45 minutes to describe the rapes, murders, robberies and assaults.

Some relatives sat with their heads bowed and hands folded. Some relatives trained their eyes on Hopewell, trying to assess his stoicism.

Prosecutors described the deaths of Constance Wills, 60; Sarah Shannon, 88; Sadie Mack, 78; Carlton Crawford, 82; and Lydia Wingfield, 78. Three of the women had been raped. All had been strangled or smothered.

Hearing the recitation of his mother's rape and death was "painful, in a way," said Jerrold C. Wingfield. "But I felt a source of some kind of a relief. Now he has answered to his crimes instead of saying `not guilty.'"

Next, a prosecutor recounted the Sept. 2 rape of a 63-year-old woman in her West Baltimore home. The victim prayed aloud for her attacker.

"You wouldn't want this to happen to your mother," the prosecutor said the woman told the attacker.

Hopewell's final crimes, police believe, were a pair of terrifying home-invasion robberies Sept. 8 and 10.

A 55-year-old woman and 61-year-old man went inside their Spaulding Avenue home after an evening on their front porch to find a man hiding in the kitchen.

The couple tried to barricade themselves in the bathroom, but the man stuck his foot in the door to keep them from closing it. He stabbed both of them in the hands and stole money and credit cards. The husband had a heart attack, the prosecutor said.

Two days later, Hopewell used one of the stolen credit cards in a ruse to talk his way into the Fernhill Avenue home of a 76-year-old woman, who had had two recent strokes, and her 80-year-old husband, who has Alzheimer's disease.

He stabbed the woman's hand, and when a 67-year-old woman who also lived there returned home, he stabbed her, too.

Prosecutors gave details about the DNA evidence Hopewell left behind - semen in the bodies of his rape victims, saliva on cigarette butts and soda cans, skin cells on a shoelace used to tie up Mack.

The defense attorney said he had "no additions or corrections" to what prosecutors had recited.

Hopewell, a 35-year-old whose short dreadlocks are specked with gray, made no statements yesterday, giving just yes and no answers to questions by the defense attorney and judge.

He said he understood when his lawyer told him the plea "in all circumstances is going to result in your incarceration for the rest of your life."

Hopewell could have faced the death penalty in four of the killings because they were committed alongside other felonies, such as rape and burglary. Instead, he will receive four consecutive terms of life without parole and other prison time.

When the hearing was over, sheriff's deputies and correctional officers escorted Hopewell outside to a waiting prison van. He has been behind bars since his arrest in September.

The victims' relatives - about two dozen of them - streamed into the courthouse hallway. Some said they had wished for a trial, and for the death penalty. Some said they were glad of the finality.

"Now he can't hurt any other families," said Lolita Horton, Wills' granddaughter. "We're just so happy that it's over."

The Wills children and grandchildren had known Hopewell as a child, when he was considered part of their family. They hadn't seen him in years.

Horton said the death penalty would have been pointless: "His life is gone to me."

Added Cecelia Smith, who found the body of her mother, Constance Wills: "I'm satisfied. This gives me closure. I'd rather have him suffer in there with no light than get the death penalty."

Jerrold Wingfield, who also knew Hopewell as a child, said he felt no closure because his mother had died "at the hands of a predator." But he took a small measure of peace in knowing Hopewell "will not be able to enjoy freedom."

John Mack said he had hoped for a trial to find out more about how and why Hopewell had picked his mother. She had lived in her house for 50 years, and for a time, Hopewell had lived just two blocks away. But nobody in the Mack family had ever met him, John Mack said.

"A trial would have answered some of our questions," he said. "I don't feel like this is the best for our family, but I guess this is what had to happen."

Reached yesterday evening at home, Ivan Wingfield, who found his mother's body, said he had been too upset about the plea deal to come to court. Wingfield said it is unfair that Hopewell had the choice to live when his five murder victims had no such choice.

"He should suffer," Wingfield said. "He shouldn't have even had the right to a plea bargain."

Hopewell is to be sentenced Sept. 14.

The relatives will return to the courtroom in which they sat somberly and quietly yesterday. But this time, it will be their turn to talk.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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