A 19-year-old from Havre de Grace pleaded guilty in Harford County Circuit Court Tuesday to killing a 15-year-old girl and dumping her body in 2017.
Naeshawn Jaheim Perry pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder, according to court documents. As part of his plea agreement, he was sentenced to life in prison, with all but 20 to 40 years suspended, Harford County State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger said. Sentencing is scheduled for June.
Maleigha Solonka, 15, of Edgewood, was reported missing on Aug. 9, 2017, and found dead a week later in the woods on the 400 block of Webb Lane. Her body was discovered in a trash can, according to a news release from the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Medical examiners determined her cause of death was asphyxiation and it was ruled a homicide.
Police pinpointed Perry more than a year later, charging the then-16-year-old with first- and second-degree murder in August 2018. Authorities filed charges against him when “multiple items that were recovered during the investigation” underwent DNA analysis. He was held without bail after being charged.
Donna Elliott, maternal grandmother to Solonka, said that she could not believe the sudden plea.
She was stunned when she received a call notifying her, and she cried in court while watching it happen. Elliott said that this does not constitute closure, but she said that justice will be served come the day of Perry’s sentencing. She had custody of Solonka from 2012 onward.
"I do not think there is ever closure, I don’t believe in that because you will always grieve for your child,” she said. "Maleigha is getting the justice that she deserves.”
Elliott said Solonka and Perry were in a fractious, on-again-off-again relationship, which her granddaughter eventually “broke away” from.
Originally scheduled to begin Oct. 23, the trial was postponed after a jury could not be seated to hear the case. Threatening messages were also found scrawled in the courthouse’s elevator, with one reading “kill Perry.”
She gave thanks to assistant state’s attorney Dair Pillai, who prosecuted the case, the police officers who investigated the murder, and Judge Paul W. Ishak, who accepted the plea Tuesday.
"It has been extremely traumatic not knowing, depressing because everything kept getting postponed,” Elliott said. "My whole family is forever broken, but we can try to put some pieces back together.”
Perry’s sentencing is scheduled for June 4, according to court documents. Peisinger said attorneys will have the opportunity to argue Perry’s sentence in court up to a maximum of 40 years or a minimum of 20.