A box of tissues was placed on the witness stand in Harford County Circuit Court’s ceremonial courtroom Tuesday. Within 10 minutes, it had seen its first use during the emotional sentencing of Naeshawn Jaheim Perry.
Perry, 19, pleaded guilty in March to one count of first-degree murder in the August 2017 killing of Maleigha Solonka, 15, of Edgewood. On Tuesday, Judge Paul Ishak handed down a life sentence and suspended all but 20 years, a punishment on the bottom end of the agreed-upon sentencing range of 20 to 40 years.
Solonka’s friends and family members took turns offering statements attesting to how the 15-year-old’s loss impacted them. Several spoke through tears, and one offered strong words to Perry from the gallery of the courtroom, leading Ishak to ask everybody to speak one at a time.
Defense attorneys argued at sentencing that Perry’s brain was not fully developed, leading to his rash behavior, and that he was suffering from mental illnesses resulting from a hard upbringing.
The prosecution contended the 2017 murder was the latest in a pattern of escalating behavior.
Solonka’s mother, Jamie Solonka, cried through much of the hearing, including her testimony. She spoke raggedly through sobs at the stand Monday, telling Perry that he had forever changed her life.
“I will never be the same because you took my daughter from me,” she said. “Every day I wake up and I’ll never see her again.”
Solonka’s grandmother Donna Elliott put her feelings more simply.
“No sentence could ever be long enough,” she said.
Defense attorneys sought for Perry to be placed in Patuxent Institution — a high security correctional facility in Jessup that would afford him group therapy and the opportunity for other mental health treatment as part of a juvenile offender program.
Ishak did not grant that request, but public defender Kelly Casper said she would file a motion for modification of Perry’s sentence to get him into Patuxent.
“I am hoping he will reconsider that in the future,” Casper said after the hearing.
Before delivering his sentence, Ishak laid out the facts as he saw them, saying that both the prosecution and defense had brought forth accurate information. The case, as he saw it, was about untreated mental illness compounded by abuse of marijuana.
“It seems to this court that is what is going on in our community,” Ishak said. “There are folks not tackling mental health issues and masking them with substance abuse.”
Perry was an escapee from a Department of Juvenile Services facility at the time of the killing, assistant state’s attorney Dair Pillai said. He strangled Solonka days before her 16th birthday and left her body in a trash can in the woods in Havre de Grace, she said. Perry was 16-years-old at the time. The two had been in an on-again, off-again relationship before the killing.
Medical examiners determined her cause of death was asphyxiation and it was ruled a homicide.
Perry told his mother that he knew where Solonka was, the defense team said, and she called the police.
Pillai said Perry had a long history of juvenile offenses, which established “a pattern of escalating violence."
The defense also brought in neuropsychologist Eric Lane, who said Perry had expressed remorse at the killing, which Perry told him was accidental. He said Perry was not neurologically impaired, but he did show evidence of depression, bipolar disorder and conduct disorders.
Lane said the time was right for Perry to receive treatment, as his brain was still developing. If he were to mingle with other prisoners, he would be socialized in the criminal justice system, which would not improve his behavior.