For six months, Anna Sowers had the sneaking suspicion that it would come to this.
In June, her husband, Zachary Sowers, was punched in the head and stomped as he lay on the ground. His watch, wallet, money, cell phone and credit cards were stolen. Zachary Sowers has been in a coma ever since.
On Monday, Trayvon Ramos, 16, pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and robbery charges, essentially admitting that he was the one who gave Zachary Sowers a near-fatal beating. Circuit Judge John C. Themelis sentenced Ramos to life in prison with all but 40 years suspended.
Eric Price, 17, stood by as Ramos beat Zachary Sowers into unconsciousness. Arthur Jeter, 18, and Wilburt Martin, 19, were hunkered down in a nearby car. Price and Jeter were juveniles at the time of the beating, but they were charged as adults. Ramos is a juvenile, but he also was tried as an adult, separately from the other defendants.
On Friday, Price, Jeter and Martin abandoned the "stop snitching" code and agreed to testify against Ramos in exchange for eight-year prison terms. Under the plea agreements, none of the defendants will face additional charges if Zach Sowers dies. Ramos could have faced a felony murder charge, and if convicted, he could have been hit with life without the possibility of parole.
"I was told that they will not be retried if Zach passes away," Anna Sowers said yesterday.
Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, confirmed that yesterday. But she added that the 40 years Ramos received is above, not below, the guidelines of the Maryland Sentencing Commission.
"Given [Ramos'] prior record, the guidelines for attempted first-degree murder called for 15 to 30 years," Burns said.
Still, Anna Sowers wanted Ramos and the other three to go to trial, so that Baltimoreans could hear all the evidence, so that the entire city would know what they had done to her husband. But on two previous occasions, Anna Sowers told me she knew what she faced, that a Baltimore jury might not convict any of the defendants.
Even Themelis hinted at it in his remarks from the bench. A news release sent out by the state's attorney's office said, "Judge Themelis noted that there is a difference between a judge's and jury's interpretation of willful, deliberate and premeditated attempted first degree murder."
Using some reading between the lines, Themelis might have been saying this: "Baltimore's Circuit Court judges can recognize when the evidence shows career reprobates are clearly guilty; some Baltimore juries either cannot or will not."
Circuit Judge John M. Glynn has said as much publicly; other Circuit Court judges have told me - off the record - that they've seen in their courtrooms juries cut loose defendants who were clearly guilty based on the evidence presented.
"Everybody's still afraid of the jury saying `not guilty,'" Anna Sowers lamented. "I was told the likelihood of a jury finding Ramos guilty of attempted first-degree murder was zero and about 5 percent of finding him guilty of attempted second-degree murder." She said she felt Assistant State's Attorneys Jennifer Sites and Angela Worthy did a good job and understands why they went for a plea bargain.
"But if I agree to a plea bargain, I feel the criminals continue to win," she said.
Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, attended the trial Friday - when Price, Jeter and Martin entered their pleas - and Monday to support the Sowers family.
Cheatham condemned what he called Ramos' "horrific act," and said he's heard about the reputation that Baltimore juries have for acquitting criminals.
"It's an indication that we've got to encourage more people to serve on juries," Cheatham said. "Don't come up with excuses about why you don't want to go."
Cheatham said he thinks it might have been more stressful for the family had Ramos gone to trial.
"There would have been more pain had [Ramos] been acquitted," Cheatham said. "That would have made the situation worse."
Anna Sowers said she was prepared psychologically and emotionally to handle an acquittal. (How could she not be, living in "Cut 'Em Loose City"?) In her view, there would have been at least one good thing to come from an acquittal.
"It would have allowed people to see what was so wrong in this city," she said.