May 03, 2007

Victim's mother testifies in Abeokuto sentencing trial

Jennifer McMenamin

[sun reporter]

On the day that would have been her daughter's 13th birthday, Milagro White took the witness stand in a Baltimore County courtroom yesterday to describe the terrible guilt and loss she feels to the jury deciding whether her former boyfriend should be sentenced to death or life in prison for killing the girl.

"I can't even tell you how many days go by when I wish I never met him, when I wish I never brought him into our home," White told the jurors deciding the fate of Jamaal K. Abeokuto.

Abeokuto, 27, of Baltimore was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004 for kidnapping and killing 8-year-old Marciana Ringo. With her pink coat spattered with blood and her throat slashed so severely that she was nearly decapitated, the Northwood Elementary School girl's frozen body was found in the snowy woods near Joppatowne in Harford County on Dec. 12, 2002, nine days after she was last seen getting into a car with Abeokuto.

Maryland's highest court reversed the death sentence last year when four Court of Appeals judges voted, for two reasons, to grant the convicted killer a new sentencing hearing.

Harford County prosecutors are again seeking a death sentence for Abeokuto. The case was moved to Baltimore County after the defense requested a change of venue.

Defense attorneys have acknowledged the terrible nature of the killing but asked jurors to withhold judgment until they know more about Abeokuto and the mental illnesses they say he has suffered. They are expected to begin presenting their case today in an effort to persuade a jury to sentence Abeokuto to life in prison without the possibility of parole rather than the death penalty.

White referred yesterday in her comments to the jury to the toll that her daughter's death - and the new court proceeding - has taken on her and her family.

"To me, this isn't fair to have to keep going through this," White said, adding that the second sentencing has reopened old wounds.

White described her daughter as a beautiful, loving child who preferred sleepovers with her grandparents and great-grandparents to her girlfriends, even though those older relatives didn't have cable television with the cartoon shows that Marciana liked.

"She was glued to the family," White told jurors.

White and Marciana's father, Marc Ringo Sr., expressed regret that their daughter never got to meet the children they have had in the 4 1/2 years since her death. And White shared with jurors her concern that her 8-year-old son's memories of his older sister are fading.

Marc Ringo Jr. has had to shoulder an especially difficult burden, his mother and father said.

White told jurors that her son routinely calls her from his father's house just to check on her.

"He says, `Mommy, are you O.K.? Do you want me to come home?'" White said. Adding that she still cries over "the smallest thing," White said, "It's too much for him to bear."

Marc Ringo Sr. similarly told jurors that his son has struggled with Marciana's death.

"It's been really hard on him because that was like his caregiver," he said of Marciana. "He still talks about her like she's still here, like she was here yesterday."

White glared at Abeokuto and broke down in tears as she told jurors that she can't help contemplating the last moments of her daughter's life.

"It hurts me to think about what my daughter was thinking," she said, choking back tears. "I don't care what I did to him," White said of Abeokuto. "It was not worth my daughter's life. ... It shouldn't have cost me my child."


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