Isaac Truss, his body shaking so much that the clinking of his shackles could be heard in the back of the courtroom, seemed unsure during his sentencing on two murders Wednesday whether he wanted to show remorse or try the case.
Having already pleaded guilty to killing two men in downtown Baltimore over the course of less than two days, Truss was now appearing before Circuit Court Judge Althea Handy for sentencing. But he started off the hearing by seeking to revoke his plea.
"I wanted to go to trial," he told Handy. "I really did. But my attorney convinced me to take a plea bargain to, he said, 'save my life.'"
Indeed, facing a possible sentence of double-life plus 40 years in prison, the plea capped the 24-year-old's sentence at 50 years. But as Truss would explain later during his allocution, he believed he had defenses that could sway a jury.
He started out by extending condolences to the victims' families. But he then moved into his arguments: In the April 20, 2011 killing of 47-year-old Keith Cooper, Truss said that he had gone to make a simple drug deal at an Inner Harbor high-rise and was groped and pushed up against the wall. He said that detectives who responded to the scene later noticed pornography on a TV or computer screen.
"He was three times my size ... I felt like my life was in danger," Truss said.
Two days later, police and prosecutors say he gunned down Edward Jones, a 50-year-old man who was sitting on a bench in the 200 block of W. Fayette St., waiting for a bus. That killing was captured on tape, and Truss was arrested carrying the weapon and wearing the same clothes as the person depicted in the video.
Truss questioned why police didn't find gunshot residue on his clothes.
Handy interjected at that point, saying his explanation "doesn't make sense, sir." "Did you hand the gun to someone else and take it back?" she said.
"The gun is not mine," Truss replied.
"But it was found in your possession," Handy said.
His supporters in the courtroom covered their faces. Truss, perhaps sensing his argument was floundering, again offered his "deepest condolences" to the families of the victims. "I'm sorry for what took place. I just ask that you have mercy on me," he said.
His defense attorney, Matthew Spencer, told Handy that Truss should be placed in the Patuxent Institution, a mental health facility. He noted that Truss had been raised by a schizophrenic, bi-polar mother addicted to heroin who could not take care of him and his siblings. He never knew his father - not even his name. He was a ninth-grade dropout and often did not know where he would stay on a given night, Spencer said.
An uncle who had taken care of him for a time told Handy "I do believe he is redeemable."
Assistant State's Attorney Richard Gibson said that while some defendants can change, nothing could be changed about the lives that were taken. He also noted that a neighbor of Cooper told detectives that they heard an argument over money before the gunshots.
"What can't be changed is that Keith Cooper is dead ... left to die in his own apartment in a pool of blood. What can't be changed is that Edward Jones was killed 48 hours later. Mr. Jones was doing nothing, sitting on a bench waiting for a bus," Gibson said.
He said the sentence of life with all but 50 years suspended was agreed to by the victims' families, who didn't want to sit through a trial.
Handy affirmed the sentence, and Truss blew a kiss to his supporters as he was led out of the courtroom.
He'll be back soon - on Monday, he's scheduled for trial along with his brother Basil on allegations that they committed as many as 10 robberies downtown and in West and East Baltimore over a span of just a few hours.