Teen faces 10 years in `senseless' killing

Waltherson woman shot on walk home

May 04, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

The 67-year-old woman had finished her day as a downtown law firm receptionist, ridden the bus to Northeast Baltimore and was making the short walk to her well-manicured home. The 14-year-old boy and his friends had skipped school, found a rifle in an abandoned rowhouse and were firing off rounds most of that afternoon.

Devon Richardson pulled the trigger on Sept. 26, and Janice Letmate died - the kind of crime police called "a senseless tragedy," the kind of crime that made Letmate's adult children and others who heard about what happened fearful of the city.

Richardson, now 15, was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in prison, the most he could receive under his plea agreement in March to one count of second-degree murder.

Before sentencing Richardson, Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard asked him to turn around and look at the 30 or so tearful friends and relatives of Letmate who had come to court, some of whom had just made speeches describing a cheerful, energetic woman who was kind to everyone.

Richardson seemed unmoved.

At times even smirking, Richardson kept a hand shoved in his blue jeans pocket when he addressed the court. "I ain't got too much to say," he began. He talked about being "sorry for what I did" and having "learned a lesson."

Defense attorney Domenic R. Iamele told the judge that his client is "pathetic," that he has the reading and arithmetic skills of a third-grader, and that he probably does not understand terms like "reckless endangerment," "harm" or even "death."

Richardson had a habit of skipping school, Iamele said, because an untreated vision problem made it hard for him to read the blackboard and understand the lessons.

He had been in trouble with the law. He had two juvenile cases of unauthorized use of a vehicle, and once brought a knife to school, according to records read aloud in court.

That day, Sept. 26, a Tuesday, Richardson didn't go to school. Instead, he and other teenagers rummaged through an abandoned rowhouse near where they lived in Northeast Baltimore and found a .22-caliber rifle. Detectives tried to trace the gun but found nothing, said police spokesman Matt Jablow.

Residents in the area heard popping sounds, like firecrackers, periodically throughout the afternoon, they later told police.

Then, just before 7 p.m., Letmate and an acquaintance were walking along Biddison Lane in Waltherson. Suddenly, Letmate collapsed. She'd been shot once in the back of the head, but at the time, onlookers thought she'd had a heart attack.

A medical examiner later found less than half a slug in Letmate, suggesting that it may have ricocheted off something before striking her.

Iamele said that shows that Letmate's death was "an accidental happening ... a very tragic event."

But Assistant State's Attorney Paul O'Connor said one teenager who was with Richardson saw him raise the gun in front his face, as if to aim it.

Whatever happened, O'Connor said, a gun is not a toy. "But the youth that we see in these courthouses week after week are not getting that."

Gloria Richardson told the judge that her grandson was "easily persuaded" and had trouble comprehending. She said of the shooting, "This is not the makeup of my grandson. He was not raised this way."

"There is love in his heart," she said. "I know. I raised him."

If Devon Richardson was truly sorry, Bonnie Letmate, the victim's 49-year-old daughter, later said she just couldn't see it.

"He didn't seem to me like he was moved by anything," she said. "I felt like he showed no emotion whatsoever, no remorse."

She and her brother, Richard Letmate, told Richardson, the judge and the packed courtroom about the pain the teenager had caused.

"I wish I could look into my mother's eyes and say, `I love you, thank you and until we meet again,'" Richard Letmate said, after giving the judge an oval-framed photograph of his mother.

He said he should have been making Mother's Day plans with her. Instead he was planning what to say to his mother's killer.

Bonnie Letmate, who also passed the judge a framed photograph of her mother, talked about the double shock of racing to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center to learn that her mother had died, and then realizing that she had been killed.

There in the hospital, she said, a homicide detective was asking the family strange questions. Would anyone want to hurt Janice Letmate? Had she had quarreled with anyone?

Anyone who knew Letmate knew how impossible that sounded.

She doted on her children and her white toy poodle named Holly. She loved to garden and cook. She helped raise money for charities including the American Cancer Society.

And for 16 years, Letmate sat at the front desk of Tydings & Rosenberg, a busy downtown law firm with 200 employees.

Law partner William Sammons told the judge that she was so important to the firm, he often joked with her about shutting it down if she ever retired.

Saying she was a receptionist, he said, was "like saying Michelangelo and da Vinci were sketch artists."

Every week, Letmate cooked gourmet meals for staff happy hour. Every winter, she trimmed the office Christmas tree. She helped employees pick out flowers for their spouses on anniversaries and answered the office phone in with her sweet, lilting, "Good afternoon. Tydings & Rosenberg."

"She never said an unkind word about anyone. She never harmed a soul," Sammons said. That makes her death "particularly tragic and ironic."

Richardson and Letmate lived less than a mile apart - he in the 5100 block of Belair Road, she in the 3600 block of Gibbons Ave. - but in vastly different neighborhoods and circumstances. They never knew each other, never exchanged any words.

Addressing Richardson's assertion that the shooting had taught him a lesson, the judge remarked:

"Now you tell me you've learned a lesson? And what did we have to do? We had to lose one of the best of our community for you to learn not to play with a gun."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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