Three teenagers accepted plea agreements yesterday that could send them to prison for eight years in exchange for testifying against a fourth defendant accused of the near-fatal beating of Zachary Sowers near his Patterson Park home June 2.
Eric Price, 17, Arthur Jeter, 18, and Wilburt Martin, 19, pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery after a lengthy court proceeding before Baltimore Circuit Judge John C. Themelis.
Under the plea bargain, each defendant faces 15 years in prison, but prosecutors say they will ask that the sentences be further reduced if the three testify against Trayvon Ramos, who is accused of beating Sowers.
Yesterday, the three defendants testified that they were present during the attack but that Ramos was the assailant. Ramos, 16, is being tried separately, as an adult, and is scheduled to appear in court Monday on attempted first-degree murder, robbery and other charges.
Sowers, 28, remains hospitalized in a coma.
Prosecutors said in court yesterday that the four teens robbed Sowers and used his credit cards to purchase gas and videos during a several-day shopping spree in June. Ramos is the only defendant accused of hitting Sowers, who was knocked unconscious and stomped as Price stood by and watched. Jeter and Martin were sitting in a nearby car.
Themelis cautioned the defendants not to deviate from yesterday's testimony on the witness stand at Ramos' trial. If they do, he said, he'd slap them with the maximum sentence of 73 years in prison.
"I give everybody everything they're entitled to, if they lie to me," Themelis said. "If you change that testimony, I will give you every day that I can. If you lie, I'm going to make you wish you were never born. I reserve the right to sentence up to the maximum, and I will."
Price and Jeter were juveniles at the time of the beating but were charged as adults. Martin was 18.
The attack on Sowers rocked the Southeast Baltimore neighborhood because of its viciousness and apparent randomness.
In August, 24 bars, restaurants and other businesses held a "Neighbors' Night Out" and donated a part of their proceeds to Sowers' recovery fund. Sowers is a financial analyst at the Johns Hopkins University.
He was robbed of his wallet, a watch, credit cards and money.
In exchange for their guilty pleas, Price, Jeter and Martin received 30-year prison terms with all but 15 years suspended. And, if they testify against Ramos or if Ramos accepts a plea agreement, their sentences could be cut to eight years.
Anna Sowers, the victim's wife, said she was disappointed the teens were not given maximum sentences. Sowers and some of her friends have held fundraisers to help cover medical costs and have set up a Web site.
Reached by telephone after the deal was announced in court, Anna Sowers said, "They were all involved. None of them called the cops. None of them were remorseful. They're just afraid now and don't want to go to jail. If all four are involved, all four should get the same maximum sentencing. They didn't just take his wallet, they took it and left him to die."
Arthur Jeter Sr., the father of one of the defendants, said his son was sorry about his role in the beating, but that he should have received a more lenient deal because he did not leave the car.
"He told me from Day 1 that he didn't do it, and he didn't," the elder Jeter said. "He was just in the car. I know he's sad and has sympathy for the family. The whole thing is messed up."
Martin and Jeter also pleaded guilty yesterday to the robbery of a neighborhood artist two days after the Sowers attack. Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Sites said in court that the two stole $500 and tattoo equipment from the man, items later recovered by police.
Price, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to stealing a woman's purse a day after the Sowers incident. Sites said the woman originally resisted giving up her purse but relented after Price pointed a gun to her head. The purse was eventually returned to the woman.
Anna Sowers did not attend the afternoon hearing, but two friends of the family said they were shocked to hear the defendants admit to committing other crimes.
Added Anna Sowers, "I don't know if the time they're getting will suffice for what they did to Zach. I don't really know what to think of what happened" in court.