Teen avoids jail in girl's death

In plea deal, boy admits he fired shot that would end ex-girlfriend's life 1 1/2 years later

May 31, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN REPORTER

A year and a half after her then-boyfriend shot her in the face, Maranda Callender was preparing for a fresh start.

At 17, she was days away from receiving her diploma from North County High School. She arranged to study nursing at a technical program. She was engaged to marry after she turned 18 late last year.

But those plans eluded her. A year ago tomorrow, the Brooklyn Park teenager was hospitalized with a severe headache. The next night, she was dead from meningitis linked to the bullet fragments in her brain.

Yesterday, her former boyfriend, who initially created a panic in Brooklyn Park by blaming an unknown assailant, admitted he killed Callender by accident in the juvenile court equivalent of a guilty plea to manslaughter. Under the plea agreement, he walked out of the Anne Arundel County courtroom with a suspended commitment and probation that includes 480 hours of community service plus required participation in a domestic violence program. He also received a judge's warning to mend his ways.

"I have no hesitation incarcerating you. I don't care how old you are," Circuit Judge William C. Mulford II told him, adding later: "The Callender family is very gracious. They have extended to you an opportunity to rebuild your life."

The Sun is not naming the 17-year-old boy because he is a juvenile.

"He has been given a golden ticket. What he does with it is his choice. Anytime you can rehabilitate somebody, that's a good thing," Christina Callender, the girl's stepmother, said afterward.

Maranda Callender's mother, Dawn Johnson, said outside the courtroom that she agreed to the plea because she "wanted a definite guilty. I wanted him to admit this and take responsibility for his actions."

On Nov. 3, 2004, the girl and the youth, with whom she had a turbulent relationship, were on his porch when she was shot above an eye. The teens told police a man in a hooded sweat shirt shot her - the youth pressed her to say so, the mother and the stepmother said.

But about five months later, as the girl was recovering, she confided to a friend that her boyfriend shot her, said Assistant State's Attorney Shelly S. Glenn. The friend told her parents, who contacted police. At that time, police charged the boyfriend with reckless endangerment, and he spent two months in the Cheltenham Youth Facility and was then put on probation.

But last fall, after Callender's death, he was charged again, this time with manslaughter.

"[He] has been very remorseful that this accident ever happened," said Kimber D. Watts, an assistant public defender who represented the youth. "It is devastating to anyone who ever knew Maranda Callender, including his family, and especially her family."

As part of the plea deal, Watts agreed not to ask the court to consider that he was being prosecuted a second time for one shooting.

The bullet's splinters lodged in Callender's brain, in such precarious positions that a quick move or slight jab to her head could have life-threatening consequences. She stopped taking part in gymnastics, endured chronic headaches and was home-schooled except for school trips and events, her family said.

Callender told her family that the youth physically abused her before she was shot, as well as after, though their relationship did not endure much longer, her mother said. The mother and the stepmother said they hope the girl's shooting sheds light on troubled and abusive relationships among young people.

At what would have been her graduation, the crowd hushed for a moment of silence for Callender. Her sister, Megan, walked across a stage to accept her older sister's diploma.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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