Dimwits just can't do what is right

December 15, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

You had to figure that, sooner or later, someone would try to kick Tippa to the curb.

"Tippa" is the nickname of William Thomas III. Before May 7, 2004, Thomas was a promising student-athlete at Randallstown High School who planned to enroll in Morgan State University to study engineering. But Thomas hadn't counted on the rash, foolish actions of one of his classmates.

Matthew Timothy McCullough had been having a "beef" with a member of the football team. School administrators knew about that beef and tried to squash it. They told him to stay home on May 7, 2004, to let tempers cool down.

At this point McCullough had several good options. He could have spent the rest of the day playing video games. He could have gone to a movie. He could have, heaven forbid, gone to a library and actually read a book. McCullough chose to do none of those things.

Instead, he willfully chose the worst possible option: He decided to go back to Randallstown High, looking for the football player. He rounded up some acquaintances to go with him. McCullough might have foreseen that a situation might develop that would lead to his going to jail, and what's the fun in going to jail, if you can't take a few of your dimwitted friends along with you?

So McCullough and his posse of dimwits engaged in a fight with some of the football player's friends. According to court testimony that would be given later, Tyrone Devon "Fat Boy" Brown grabbed a weapon and fired into a group of students. Brown then handed the gun to McCullough, who fired more shots.

Four students were wounded, including Thomas, who was left paralyzed from the waist down.

A Baltimore County jury found McCullough guilty on four counts of assault. In January 2005, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh nailed McCullough with the maximum of 25 years on each count, and ordered that the sentences run consecutively. (Brown pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 50 years.)

Thomas was at McCullough's sentencing and showed Cavanaugh his abdomen, now disfigured after repeated surgeries. Thomas told Cavanaugh of the pain he still suffers because of his injuries, of how his plans for studying engineering and playing football at Morgan were derailed.

Now come the lawyers who've forgotten all about - assuming they ever knew of - Thomas. They argued in Baltimore County Circuit Court this week that Cavanaugh's sentencing of McCullough was too harsh. They went into court with all these highfalutin ideals and used some right purty language about the "unconstitutionally disproportionate" sentence McCullough got.

Unconstitutionally disproportionate compared to what? Have these lawyers been reading the same U.S. Constitution the rest of us read? You know, the one with that Eighth Amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment? The simplest meaning of that amendment is that the punishment for an offense must fit the crime.

How, exactly, does McCullough's sentence - when viewed through the prism of the ongoing agony of not only Thomas, but the rest of his family - not fit the crime?

Advocates for McCullough argue that there is no evidence that any of the bullets he fired hit Thomas or anyone else. That's true, as far as it goes. But there's more truth here.

Those same advocates may or may not have been in the courtroom nearly three years ago at McCullough's sentencing hearing, when a Baltimore County prosecutor said it was McCullough who was responsible for the "tragic set of events" that happened at Randallstown High.

If McCullough simply stays away from the school, as he was told, none of this ever happens: Thomas is never shot and paralyzed, Brown doesn't get 50 years and McCullough doesn't get 100. But even after the shooting happened, McCullough still had an out.

He could simply have pleaded guilty to the assault charges and agreed to testify against Brown. Two years ago, Michael X. Shelton testified for the state against two defendants charged with murdering 15-year-old Quartrina Johnson, who was strangled in Baltimore. Shelton helped others move Johnson's body to a park in Baltimore County, where it was burned.

Shelton pleaded guilty to conspiracy and got a two-year sentence. McCullough could have cut a similar deal and received far less time, but what do you want to bet that McCullough is one of these "Stop Snitching" guys?

And what do you want to bet that McCullough's lawyers haven't asked him this question: Given a choice between serving your 100-year sentence and switching places with Thomas, which would you choose?

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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