Teen gets life term in girl's death

Judge notes lack of remorse for rape, murder of 4-year-old

July 22, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

Even during an interview that could have helped him receive a lighter sentence, 17-year-old Ronald Hinton blamed a relative's ex-girlfriend for the rape and murder of a child he had been baby-sitting in Northeast Baltimore.

At sentencing yesterday, Baltimore Circuit Judge John Addison Howard made it clear that he did not appreciate the teenager's lack of remorse and ordered him to serve life plus 25 years in prison for the 2006 crime. Howard said the facts proved that Hinton's version of events was "absolutely untrue" and that he further victimized those he falsely accused.

"I do believe it's a good thing to have hope, but I'm not in a position to offer much hope in terms of this sentence," Howard said.

During a trial in May, prosecutors relied on a detailed, taped confession in which Hinton told police how, when he was 15 years old, he raped Ja'Niya E. Williams, bit her on the chest and thigh and beat her with a belt. Hinton changed his story in court, testifying that he was cooking breakfast when he heard a thump upstairs and found the girl lying on the floor.

Hinton declined to make a statement in court yesterday.

His defense attorney, Janice Bledsoe, had argued that there were many people coming and going at the home in the 2900 block of Goodwood Road who could have committed the crime. Moreover, DNA evidence collected from the 4-year-old's body was inconclusive.

Hinton's DNA was found under Ja'Niya's fingernail, but other samples identified "unknown individuals," including an unknown female, or did not contain enough bodily fluid or human tissue to lead to an identification.

"The prosecutor told the jurors, 'Don't worry about the DNA because that's just TV,' " said Hinton's mother, Francine Toney. "But there are people who've been in jail for 20 to 30 years, and we come to find out they're innocent because of DNA. Now if they had told me that my son's DNA was found inside Ja'Niya, then I'd have no choice but to believe them."

At trial, prosecutor Jo Anne Stanton argued that so many people had touched Ja'Niya's body - dressing it, wrapping it in a blanket, carrying it outside, trying to save her - that the DNA evidence was tainted and irrelevant.

"We did not anticipate DNA being a factor," Stanton said.

According to a Sun interview with one juror after the trial, the panel agreed and also focused on the fact that Hinton was the only person in the house at the time the toddler was fatally injured by a blow to the head.

During the trial, a family melodrama unfolded with Hinton's relatives behind the defense table and Ja'Niya's behind prosecutors.

"Everybody has been torn apart," Toney said during the sentencing hearing, as she turned to the audience. "I love every one of y'all. God tells me to love in spite of everything."

The relationships are complex. Hinton's uncle lived with a woman, Debra Wall, who, until just before Ja'Niya died, thought she was the toddler's grandmother. Wall's son, Keenan M. Woodley, raised Ja'Niya but learned that he was not her biological father at the hospital where she was being treated.

The revelation caused an argument to break out at the hospital and prompted extra security in the courtroom.

"The facts of this case in so many ways are just outstanding," Howard said. "In addition to Ja'Niya ... there are other victims. Keenan Woodley ... I'm incredibly sympathetic to what he has experienced."

Bledsoe said yesterday that she plans to appeal the verdict.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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