Death of holdup victim leads to long sentences

2 men get 40-year terms in Lansdowne homicide

December 12, 2006|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

A Baltimore County judge sentenced two men yesterday to 40 years in prison each in the death of a man who suffered a heart attack during an attempted armed robbery last year in Lansdowne.

Linton A. Wittock Jr., 20, was walking down the street May 12, 2005, with a friend when two young men got out of a parked Cadillac, pointed a handgun at the pair and told them to lie down on the ground. As one man searched through Wittock's friend's pockets and shoes in search of money, Wittock began struggling to breathe and then grew quiet, according to court records.

He was pronounced dead less than 90 minutes later.

David F. Bias Jr., 21, and Rodney E. Gibson, 24, apologized in court yesterday, saying they didn't mean for anyone to die during the attempted robbery.

"I ain't had no intention of hurting nobody," Gibson told Baltimore County Circuit Judge Ruth A. Jakubowski. "It was an accident. I'm not a murderer."

Gibson pleaded guilty in October to first-degree murder.

Bias, who police said held the gun during the attempted robbery, was convicted by a jury in September of first-degree murder, first-degree assault, attempted armed robbery and use of a handgun in the commission of a violent crime.

In back-to-back hearings yesterday, Jakubowski sentenced each man to life in prison, suspending all but 40 years of the terms and ordering them both to serve five years of probation upon release. The judge added a concurrent, 20-year prison term, with all but five years suspended, to Bias' sentence for handgun convictions.

The sentences capped an emotional morning during which relatives of both defendants tearfully apologized to the victim's family and Gibson's older brother expressed regret that he had not done more to help his sibling when Gibson alone was caring for their drug-addicted mother.

She died of an overdose the day after Christmas in 2004. Gibson's father died of an overdose 18 years earlier.

"I want to apologize to my brother for not being there at a time when I could have and should have," Wayne Thompson said, adding that he also viewed Gibson's arrest as "a blessing."

"If he had not been picked up and put in jail, I would have buried him last year," he told the judge, choking back sobs. "I just want the chance to live with my brother again."

Turning to the victim's younger brother, Reggie Murphy, the defendant's older brother added, "I know you don't get that opportunity. So I'll be your brother."

Police initially charged Bias and Gibson with assault in the death of Wittock and the attempted armed robbery of his friend, Patrick Scott.

Those charges were upgraded to first-degree murder after a medical examiner ruled the death a homicide and determined that the robbery caused cardiac arrhythmia that led to Wittock's death.

Prosecutor John Cox said this was the first case he could recall in which a defendant was convicted of murder after a victim died of a heart attack during the commission of a crime.

"The irony is that you learn about cases like this in law school, but you never get that case as a reality," Cox said. "This was that case."

Wittock, who worked at Wal-Mart and was studying criminal justice at the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus, was the eldest of Burnett McFadden's four children. An autopsy revealed that Wittock had the same congenital heart condition that had caused the death of another of McFadden's boys, the prosecutor said.

"Linton was my firstborn ... and I loved him so much," McFadden tearfully told the judge. "I just miss him. And I don't understand how I lost him."

Gibson told authorities that he and Bias decided to rob the victim and his friend because they were standing on a corner where drug dealers were known to congregate. The robbers mistakenly believed the pair to be dealers who might be carrying a large amount of cash.

Describing his client as a "bundle of contradictions" and an individual who could be a good person "if you scrape the barnacles off the side," defense attorney Warren A. Brown told the judge that Gibson was angry at drug dealers for feeding his mother's addiction for so long.

"He thought these guys were out there preying on the public, involved in drug distribution," Brown said.

Gibson, however, acknowledged to authorities that he sold cocaine from time to time to support himself.

Bias graduated from Southwestern High School in Baltimore and was enrolled in classes at the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus when he was arrested, defense attorney Marc E. Mandel told the judge.

His friends and neighbors described him as a respectful young man who attended church, participated in a Bible study group and helped neighbors shovel snow in winter.

"I truly didn't know what was going to happen on that night," Bias told the judge. "I ask that you give me a second chance to be the young man I know I can be, the young man I was raised to be."

But prosecutor Stephanie Porter countered that Bias did not deserve the leniency he requested, telling the judge that the defendant had seen Wittock beginning to shake while lying on the ground during the attack.

"He noticed that. And what did he do?" she said. "He got in the car and left."

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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