Dante Parrish and Jason Mattison Jr.

At left, Dante Parrish, has been convicted of killing 15-year-old Jason Mattison Jr., right. Above, Parrish sits on a police van outside before being taken to Central Booking in November 2009. (Baltimore Sun/Kim Hariston)

Dante Parrish, a convicted killer freed from prison with the help of the Innocence Project in a 1999 murder, was sentenced to life without parole Tuesday for murdering a 15-year-old Baltimore boy less than a year after his release.

Baltimore Circuit Judge John Addison Howard quoted an old Scottish prayer when handing down the sentence, which included a second life term for attempting to sexually assault Jason Mattison Jr. before suffocating the teen with a pillowcase, slashing his throat and stuffing him in a bedroom closet in November 2009.

"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, good Lord deliver us," Howard recited. "To me," he told Parrish, "you are every bit as frightening and more, because you are real."

Members of Jason's family clung to one another as the sentence was read, wiping away tears, while Parrish stared straight ahead. He refused to speak at the hearing, shaking his head when asked if he had anything to say.

"No apology, nothing," muttered Jason's cousin LaQuanna Couplin, who lived with Jason at his great-aunt's house on Llewellyn Avenue when he was killed. Parrish posed as a family friend, then ripped their world apart, she told the court in an emotional statement.

"I trusted him. Every day I wish that I hadn't ... because maybe my cousin would still be here," she said. "No one should ever do anything like that to an innocent child and hurt a family you're supposed to be close to."

Parrish, 37, was convicted of theft and drug possession in 1992, making a false statement in 1993, malicious destruction of property in 1997 and murder in 1999, in the killing of an East Baltimore man.

He was sentenced to 30 years in prison in the case, but later convinced Maryland's Innocence Project, a group that works to overturn wrongful convictions, that he had been wrongfully convicted. After a new trial in 2008, he was sentenced to time served and released through a plea deal in January 2009.

Jason was killed in November.

"It took him less than a year to commit a murder," Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Hastings told the court Tuesday.

The state's Innocence Project, which has won about a dozen new trials in the past decade, has stood by its work in Parrish's case, noting that he was convicted in the earlier killing based on false information from prosecutors.

"That's precisely the circumstances under which the wrong person gets convicted," Michele Nethercott, one of the group's directors, said Tuesday.

"I can't make predictions about future behavior any better than lots of other people, and I really don't want to," Nethercott said, stressing that wrongful convictions of any kind cannot stand.

After Parrish's arrest in 2009, she said, she was "inundated with calls" by people asking how it felt to have blood on her hands. "That was the line people were running with, and they weren't really interested in much other perspective," Nethercott said.

"People coming out of prison generally have a lot of problems," she said. "I guess I have a warped perspective, but in some ways it's actually surprising to me that there aren't more problems."

Parrish set off no alarms for Jason's family. He reminded Couplin that she had met him as a child, and loyalty led her to open her home to him as she did to Jason.

Prosecutors said during Parrish's trial that the teen, who was gay, moved from "place to place to keep a roof over his head," yet managed to excel in school. He was talkative, vibrant and full of life, friends and family have said, and wanted to be a doctor.

"He was destined for greatness one way or another," Ryan C. Jones, who taught Jason at West Baltimore's Vivian T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, testified during the trial.

"Jason represented my motivation ... my drive and passion for living," his mother said in a written statement to the court read Tuesday. "When you killed Jason, you killed the best part of me."

On the night Jason was killed, Nov. 10, 2009, three who shared the home with him were at a party in Cherry Hill, and the great-aunt and another adult had passed out from heroin use, according to prosecutors.

A 13-year-old girl heard Jason scream for help and ran to wake the great-aunt, who found Jason and Parrish in a bedroom, the boy's pants below his knees. The woman backed away when Parrish yelled at her to get out, prosecutors said, then lost consciousness in another room.

Parrish was convicted last month of first-degree murder, attempted sexual assault and a weapons violation.

His defense attorney, Bridget Shepherd, asked the judge to give Parrish "the hope of parole," but Howard declined.

"You are a danger to your friends, you are a danger to your enemies and you are a danger to society," Howard said, sentencing Parrish to consecutive life sentences, one without possibility of parole, and a three-year concurrent term for using a deadly weapon.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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