30-year prison term in killing

Woman sentenced in shooting of popular courthouse officer

February 23, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

For 17 years, Gregory Lloyd Rollins escorted shackled defendants through the hallways of this Baltimore Circuit Courthouse.

He was known here as "Roc," a correctional officer who was equally kind to those in robes and to those in handcuffs.

"He was just about my favorite correctional officer," said Circuit Judge Gale E. Rasin.

It was in this same building, Courthouse East on Calvert Street, that his killer was sentenced this week.

Rollins' shooting death in March at his home in Madison Park was "the type of thing we deal with every day," said Sgt. Carl Coates, another correctional officer who works in the courthouse. "You'd never think that one of us would succumb to that."

The woman convicted of shooting Rollins to death did so "in a jealous rage" over his ex-girlfriend, the prosecutor said. Then, she tried to cover up the crime by saying that Rollins, a 41-year-old father of four daughters, had killed himself.

That story unraveled when evidence testing showed no gunshot residue on Rollins' hands but plenty on hers, the prosecutor said.

Last month, a jury convicted Iletha Murdaugh, 44, of second-degree murder and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime. On Tuesday, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Word of the sentence spread through Courthouse East much the same way news of Rollins' murder did: phone calls among courtroom clerks and hallway conversations between sheriff's deputies and correctional officers.

The people who work here -- from secretaries to judges -- remember him fondly.

"He was the friendliest, smilingest, nicest guy," said Lou Curran, a public defender. "He always had a positive attitude and did his job with good humor."

"He was a very warm, caring person," said Assistant State's Attorney Antonio Gioia.

Courthouse employees who didn't know Rollins by name knew him by sight. In his navy-blue uniform, he was the large man with a shaved head, a neat goatee and an earring -- the man who nearly always smiled and said hello.

He was in the transportation unit that brought defendants from the city jail to the Circuit Court every morning. When it came time for court appearances, Rollins or another officer would escort their charges and then sit with them in court.

Judges Rasin, Wanda K. Heard and David W. Young said they loved seeing Rollins in their courtrooms. All three spoke at his memorial service last year.

"A lot of times in the courtroom, tensions are high, stress levels are high, and when you sentence people, they can get very upset," Young said. "He had the ability to just calm them down. He'd just tell them, `It's going to be OK.'"

Heard said Rollins "was not just moving bodies in and out of the courtroom."

"He was engaged in conversations with the inmates," she said. "You could hear him talking in a compassionate, almost counseling tone."

Rollins dreamed of parlaying his rapport with his charges -- whose crimes frequently sprang from drug addiction -- into running a rehabilitation center.

Heard said that Rollins, weeks before his death, asked her to review his proposal to open a residential program for pregnant drug addicts.

Fellow courthouse officers knew of Rollins' aspirations.

"If he came into money, he wanted to use it to open a rehab house," said Scottie Washington, a Baltimore sheriff's deputy.

At the time he was killed, Rollins, who lived with two of his daughters, Nyah, 15, and Konyca, 13, had taken in a troubled teenage boy who had nowhere to stay. The boy thought of Rollins as a stepfather.

Murdaugh lived there, too.

She described herself as a childhood friend of Rollins and wrote in a letter to the judge that Rollins was "a man that I loved with all my heart, a man that loved me with all his heart."

The day of the shooting, Murdaugh, Rollins and an ex-girlfriend of his played cards and drank alcohol at the Mosher Street house.

Prosecutors said the couple later argued over the ex-girlfriend and that the confrontation became heated. Murdaugh grabbed a gun.

"She had no intention to kill him, either voluntarily or involuntarily," said Murdaugh's lawyer, Steven J. Scheinin. He said Murdaugh had the gun in her hands when it fired because she feared Rollins would try to kill himself.

When she took the stand at her trial, and in her letter to the judge, Murdaugh said the gun she was holding went off accidentally because she flinched when Rollins threw a table at her.

Assistant State's Attorney John Cox said at the sentencing hearing that Murdaugh gave four versions of what happened but "never took responsibility for her actions."

Cox said Murdaugh amassed a record of theft and fraud convictions, crimes she said she committed to support a 20-year drug habit.

"And she has continued the fraud in this case," Cox said.

In sentencing Murdaugh, Judge David B. Mitchell noted her "deceit and deception."

"The act that you did might be bad," he said, "but lying about it makes it worse."

For the Courthouse East judges who knew Rollins well, the court proceedings for Murdaugh were a reminder that though they had lost a friend, the criminal justice system, in this case, had worked.

"I can't tell you how relieved I was that somebody was arrested and prosecuted," Young said. "He was too decent a guy for it to end like that."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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