Detective's killer gets life without parole

City police officer was off duty when shot in holdup attempt, leaves five children

January 01, 2009|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,

The 23-year-old Baltimore man convicted of killing an off-duty city detective in a robbery attempt outside his girlfriend's home was sentenced yesterday to life in prison without parole.

In issuing the sentence for the murder of Detective Troy Lamont Chesley Sr., Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy Doory described Brandon Grimes as a "cruel and cowardly criminal" whom the citizens of Baltimore had "every reason to fear" for "every day of his adult life."

Chesley's mother, Joyce, began sobbing on the stand, and a detective stepped in to finish reading her written remarks.

When asked whether she had anything to add, Joyce Chesley turned to face Grimes, who was sitting at the defense table a few feet away, and propped up a small photo of her son on the ledge of the witness box.

"I have to go to the cemetery twice a week to see my son and talk to him," she said. "You should have been put away a long time ago, long time ago."

Grimes showed no emotion during the two-hour hearing and declined to say anything. He whispered, "I love you, too," to his family as corrections officers led him from the courtroom.

Grimes had been arrested 17 times, including twice for handgun possession in the year before the January 2007 killing. But he had been convicted only six times, for nonviolent offenses, and did not spend significant time in prison.

The gun used to kill Chesley, 34, had been seized in a 2001 police raid but was returned to the owner when the case collapsed. Five years later, the owner reported that his son had stolen it, but city police never moved forward on that investigation.

Police do not know how Grimes got the gun, a 9 mm Sig Sauer that investigators found equipped with a laser-targeting device.

Grimes' criminal trajectory highlights two perennial problems at the crux of the Police Department's efforts to curb homicides: locking up gun offenders and reducing robberies.

Four days before Chesley's killing, police say, Grimes carjacked two men, stealing a driver's license and credit card and then dumping the vehicle nearby. The victims called police, but officers did not take a report or investigate.

The allegation was labeled unfounded until Sgt. Richard Purtell began reviewing evidence from the homicide. He found the stolen license and credit card inside a wallet recovered from the getaway van that Grimes used in the Chesley shooting.

In asking yesterday for a sentence of life without parole, prosecutor Kevin Wiggins described Grimes as the "thing that goes 'bump' in the night."

"He's the reason why parents hold their children tighter," Wiggins said.

And he said that if Chesley had not shot Grimes and wounded him in the leg, the case would have turned out like so many others: a "whodunit."

Grimes, both Doory and Wiggins said, has shown no remorse. Doory said the defendant told a "web of lies" on the witness stand on the final day of his trial.

While testifying, Grimes couldn't tell jurors where he was on the night he was wounded, how many shots were fired or where they came from.

Grimes also couldn't explain why, after being shot, he walked into the woods bleeding profusely and passed homes where he could have gotten help. He told medical personnel that he had been robbed.

When Wiggins asked Grimes how he could have been robbed when none of his belongings was missing, Grimes responded: "They [tried to] rob me of my life."

Some jurors snickered. The panel convicted Grimes of first-degree murder in August after deliberating a little more than three hours.

"I've never seen someone in my time in this office earn the sentence the state has requested," Wiggins said yesterday in his argument for life without parole.

Efforts at what Wiggins described as "self-preservation" continued yesterday when Grimes' attorney, Roland Walker, requested a new trial for his client on two grounds: that the evidence presented did not prove that the killing was premeditated and that the DNA evidence was unreliable.

The trial - prominent because it involved the killing of a police officer - coincided with reports by The Baltimore Sun that crime lab workers had contaminated evidence with their own DNA in 12 cases. The contamination was less alarming than the fact that the Police Department laboratory, until last summer, did not have safeguards in place to detect it.

But then, in middle of the trial, lab workers discovered that a mobile crime scene technician had left his DNA on the grip of the pistol used to murder Chesley, marking the 13th instance of contamination.

Doory dismissed Walker's arguments yesterday, concluding that both issues had been fully litigated before the jury. Members reached a guilty verdict with knowledge of the contamination and a full understanding of what was and was not known about Grimes' intentions in the hours before the killing.

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