Man gets 50-year term for shooting witness

November 27, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,

George Bennett has spent the past 16 months hunkered down with friends and family members.

He moved out of state. He changed his phone numbers. And he hired a lawyer to fight a subpoena requiring him to testify against a co-worker whom he had turned in to police after the man bragged about robbing a hair salon at gunpoint.

Bennett ended up returning to Baltimore County in September to testify against the man who robbed the salon in 2006 and later shot him in an attempt to keep him from testifying.

Yesterday, that man, Harold A. Norton Jr., was sentenced to 50 years in prison for attempted murder, armed robbery, witness intimidation and handgun charges.

"I feel very justified," Bennett said yesterday in a telephone interview after the sentencing hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court. "But this is bigger than me. He had to answer to the law. But ultimately, he has to answer to the Lord for his actions."

Norton, 35, of Baltimore is the single father of an 11-year-old son. He worked as a counselor for a company that ran several group homes in Baltimore city and county, including the one where Bennett was working the night in July 2007 when he was shot..

Baltimore County prosecutor Robin S. Coffin called Norton "a predator" and told the judge that Bennett and the three women who were robbed at the salon remain "terrified" as a result of the crimes. She asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence for each of the string of convictions that Norton racked up and to run those sentences consecutively for a total prison term of life plus 80 years.

But defense attorney Christoper Luber asked the judge to consider a lesser sentence that would allow his client to reunite with his son one day. He called upon Norton's mother, aunt and brothers to describe the good he has accomplished in his life.

In announcing his sentence, the judge said that the evidence against Norton couldn't have been more persuasive or more upsetting, particularly with regard to the shooting of the witness.

"All [Bennett] does is what any good citizen would do - he tells the police," Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz said. He later added, "What reasonable person, when faced with that evidence, wouldn't view this as the most serious crime that can be?"

He sentenced Norton to 50 years for trying to kill the witness and concurrent lesser sentences for the other convictions. Because of the way the judge structured the sentence, Norton must serve more time - 25 years - before he is eligible for a parole hearing than he would have if he had received a life sentence.

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