Man sentenced to life plus 35 years in shooting of Baltimore police sergeant

A Baltimore judge on Monday sentenced Gregg Thomas to life plus 35 years behind bars for the 2014 shooting of city police Sgt. Keith Mcneill, concluding a years-long court battle that included four trials.

Thomas, 37, had pleaded not guilty but was convicted by a jury of attempted first-degree murder and two gun charges in February after three mistrials in the case.

Mcneill was shot eight times outside an automotive shop in the Berea neighborhood of East Baltimore in March 2014. He is still recovering from his injuries. Attending Monday's hearing, he wore a brace on one hand.

He declined comment, but his wife, Danielle Mcneill, said she was "glad [Thomas] will not be walking the streets of Baltimore inflicting undue pain on another family."

Thomas declined making a statement to the court and was led away in chains.

In calling for the maximum sentence, Assistant State's Attorney Traci Robinson called Thomas an "acute danger to the community."

She noted that Thomas had been convicted of second-degree murder in the 2003 killing of 17-year-old Davon Lindsey — but had served only a portion of a 30-year prison sentence for that crime when he was released in 2013.

Robinson said it took Thomas just 15 months to return to the criminal justice system. Holding up one of the crime scene photos, she said it was clear his intent "was essentially to execute Keith Mcneill."

Circuit Judge Julie Rubin agreed in issuing a maximum life sentence for the attempted first-degree murder charge and consecutive 20- and 15-year sentences for the charges of using a handgun and possessing a handgun as a prohibited felon.

"What you did in that moment is nothing short of atrocious," Rubin told Thomas. "It was heinous."

If Thomas is ever granted parole on his life sentence in Mcneill's shooting, he would have to begin serving time on the gun charges, each of which carries a minimum five years behind bars without parole.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis both attended the sentencing hearing and hugged Mcneill afterward.

"Any attempted cop killer will be dealt with accordingly, and I think this is indicative of that," Mosby said.

"If this does send a message, so be it," Davis said.

Thomas' attorney, Jason Ott, had asked for a life sentence with all but 40 years suspended. He declined to comment afterward.

During the hearing, Ott said he believed his client should have a chance — even decades from now — to return to society and teach kids not to follow in his footsteps.

In her statement to the court, Danielle Mcneill described the toll the shooting has had on her husband of nearly 24 years and their family. She said she quit her job to be a care provider for her husband.

"Our lives changed, and not for the best," she said.

Capt. Monique Brown, a colleague in the Baltimore Police Department, said in a statement she and Mcneill are like siblings who serve as godparents to each others' children.

She laced into Thomas for attempting to take Mcneill's life — telling him he deserved the death penalty. But since that's not possible in Maryland, she asked Rubin to put him behind bars for "as long as possible."

Thomas had been tried three times for the Mcneill shooting before February's conviction. Juries could not reach a unanimous decision in two of the trials; in the other, a judge ruled police had not delivered certain evidence to the defense, and declared a mistrial.

The day of the shooting, Mcneill was off duty and getting work done on his car at the automotive shop before driving to an ATM to get cash. Upon his return he encountered Thomas, who he said was acting suspicious outside the shop.

Mcneill identified himself as a police officer and asked Thomas what he needed. Thomas opened fire on Mcneill as he sat in his vehicle. Multiple witnesses came forward to identify Thomas as the shooter.

Danielle Mcneill told of Brown arriving at her home that day in a panic and rushing to Maryland Shock Trauma Center. She knew "it was bad" when she saw a line of other police officers there.

She recalled her mind racing: Who would tell her son what to wear for his junior prom? Would her husband miss their son's high school graduation? Who would she talk to about everything?

As the days turned to weeks, months and years, her husband began to recover, she said. But he had to learn to talk and walk again, and couldn't eat solid food for years. The surgeries, and the struggles, continue, she said.

"I didn't have any strength," she said, holding back tears. "But I knew I had to be Keith's strength."

krector@baltsun.com

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