Man who shot friend is given life, no parole

Case fell short of death penalty criteria, judge rules

March 15, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

A man convicted of killing his friend after a night of partying in a Dundalk apartment was spared the death penalty yesterday when the judge ruled that the conviction failed to meet the criteria for capital punishment and sentenced him to life without parole.

In granting a defense motion, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Cox said the robbery committed by Travis Davon Terry against the victim's girlfriend was "reactive" to the killing and not the intent of the crime.

Terry, 24, was convicted Wednesday by a Harford County jury of killing his longtime friend Edwin Leon Potillo in June 2005 and of robbing and attempting to kill Potillo's girlfriend.

To achieve a capital murder sentence, prosecutors must prove that an "aggravating" factor - such as robbery, rape or carjacking - was part of the crime. The defense argued that the robbery of the girlfriend, Jennifer Parvizimotlagh, did not meet that criteria.

"As complicated as it seems, it's really quite simple," defense attorney Kay A. Beehler told Cox. "The defendant was acquitted by the jury of attempted robbery [of Potillo] and acquitted of felony murder. ... It could not be more clear."

After hearing testimony about Terry's troubled background and his turbulent behavior while incarcerated, Cox handed down the harshest penalty permitted.

"There is no shred of evidence that was presented to suggest that this picture will ever change," Cox said. "Mr. Terry, for absolutely no reason, executed a friend and nearly executed another person. ... His behavior since then has been abysmal. I don't think he has the ability to control his behavior in any way, and I don't think that will change."

A social worker testified that Terry lived with 17 guardians as a child and that nearly all of them abused alcohol, used drugs or beat him.

His mother was a drug addict who died last year of complications from HIV, said Esta Glazer-Semmel, a clinical social worker at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. One of the few examples she could find of Terry showing empathy was his caring for his younger sister.

"This is one of the most serous histories of abuse and neglect," Glazer-Semmel said. "There was never any caretaker or any role model who showed him that a caretaker could be a good thing."

Prosecutors called Terry a danger to society, noting a string of juvenile arrests and his disruptive behavior while he was incarcerated at the Baltimore County Detention Center. In less than two years, Terry has spent about 600 days in segregation from other prisoners because of more than 30 behavioral infractions, including assaults on correctional officers, stashing homemade weapons and smoking marijuana in his cell.

"He represents the highest form of criminal danger that law-abiding citizens need to be protected from," said Assistant State's Attorney Garret Glennon.

Charges were brought against Terry in Baltimore County, but the case was heard in Bel Air under a provision that gives defendants in a death penalty case an automatic right of removal to another jurisdiction.

Terry opted to be sentenced by the judge instead of the jury, sending the proceedings back to Towson. Before the sentencing, Potillo's aunt told Cox in a victim impact statement that her nephew respected others. It was hoped that the father of three would become a barber and join the family business, Mel's Clip Joint and Salon in Essex.

The aunt, Lisa Potillo, said in an interview that the family was satisfied with the sentence.

"We just don't want him back on the streets. As long as he can't hurt anybody else, we're happy," she said.

Terry also addressed the courtroom. Clutching a black New York Giants cap, he turned to the Potillo family and said he had "lost a friend."

"How can I put this?" he said, pausing. "Even though I was found guilty, that was still my friend. And I didn't do it."

After learning his punishment, Terry turned to his sister, smiled and told her that he loved her. he was then was escorted from the courtroom.

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