Facing the line of family members and friends of Jeffrey Mark Coudon, the man he was convicted of murdering, Joseph Daniel Parrish said Tuesday that he was sorry — not for the killing, which he denies, but for their loss.
The apology did not go over well, with one of those seated in the courtroom’s jury box across from him mouthing “shut up.”
Harford County Circuit Court Judge Paul W. Ishak sentenced Parrish on Tuesday to life with the possibility of parole for the murder, plus 40 consecutive years of incarceration for two other charges related to the 2018 killing of Coudon, a wheelchair-bound veteran, in his Havre de Grace apartment.
Parrish, 29, of Aberdeen, was convicted Oct. 17, 2019, of first-degree murder, witness retaliation and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. A jury found him to have killed Coudon, 61, who Parrish was accused of previously robbing.
Prosecutors said the murder was meant to stop Coudon from testifying against Parrish in the robbery case.
Coudon’s cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head.
At Tuesday’s sentencing, Coudon’s mother, Marilyn, said she remembered staying by her son’s side through seven hip replacements — consequences of a medical condition he had — but being powerless to help him as he laid in the hospital suffering gunshot wounds. She said his loss has left a void in the family that cannot be filled.
“Shock trauma was different,” she said. “This was outside my control.”
Police found Coudon suffering from gunshot wounds in his apartment Nov. 11, 2018. He was taken to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore where he died three days later.
Coudon’s daughter, Kaitlin, also wrote a victim impact statement that a supporter read in court. She was going to dinner when she got a phone call that her father was in the hospital, and ended up in shock trauma “being told my father would never wake up again,” according to the statement.
Kaitlin said she still sees him in her mind’s eye, and the image will never leave her. She hoped the family could get closure and move on at the conclusion of Tuesday’s sentencing.
Coudon’s friend, David Leonard, was more blunt — “You should be executed,” he said flatly to Parrish.
Assistant state’s attorney Timothy Doory said that beyond the harm done to Coudon’s family and friends, Parrish’s actions were a transgression against the criminal justice system. Killing a witness and circumventing the system’s role in adjudicating guilt and innocence were crimes that need to be deterred and punished with a lengthy prison sentence, he said.
“The defendant was too great a coward to face that, so he eliminated the witnesses against him,” Doory said. “I see no potential for rehabilitation here.”
Parrish’s attorney, assistant public defender Shane Nolan, said his client had a rough upbringing. After enduring abuse by his mother and several boyfriends, Nolan said, Parrish was involved in an accident that ejected him from a car and gave him some brain damage. Then, Nolan said, Parrish was hit by a freight train years later.
“I have represented some people with some bad histories,” Nolan said, ”and this is probably the worst I have ever come across.”
Parrish’s description by others in the courtroom did not match Linda Gischel’s recollection of him. Gischel took Parrish in when he was around 17 years old. She said he had a hard life but did not know him to be someone capable of committing crimes like those he was convicted of.
“That is not the guy I know,” she said.
Nolan said Parrish suffered from impulse control issues and pointed out that his criminal record was light for his upbringing. He asked Judge Ishak to impose a sentence “that gives him a chance.”
“Some people you know early on they do not have a chance. The system did not do him any favors,” Nolan said.
The longest to speak on Parrish’s behalf was Parrish himself, who decried his prosecution as a miscarriage of justice. In lengthy allocution, he ran through an extensive list of perceived mistakes by the court, prosecutors, the police and his own attorney.
Parrish particularly criticized Doory, who he accused of lying and prosecutorial misconduct. He denied any link between himself and the murder weapon and said the DNA evidence against him was shaky. He accused Doory and police of conspiring to label him Coudon’s killer without sufficient evidence.
“I was literally made to be the killer,” he said Tuesday.
But to Coudon’s family across from him, Parrish offered condolences for their loss.
“I am very sympathetic; I could not be more sorry for your loss,” he said. “This is not justice.”
Parrish had been seeking a new trial since January 2020 for a multitude of reasons, maintaining the innocence of himself and Robert Lee Zeman III, who was found guilty in February 2020 of being an accessory to Coudon’s murder and other related charges. In November, Zeman was sentenced to serve 15 years, according to online court records. Zeman, 35, is also appealing for a new trial.
Last month, Ishak ruled that the DNA evidence tested by a Maryland State Police DNA expert was in line with the state’s new evidentiary and testimonial standards, effectively denying Parrish a new trial.
Ishak said the DNA evidence against Parrish — found on a cigarette butt — was sound and that any alleged procedural issues could be taken up on appeal.
“One would think, after surviving all you have been through .... you would think the straight-and-narrow would be the life you choose,” Ishak said.
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Nolan said did not wish to comment on the proceeding afterward but said the defense would “file the appeal today.”