A 31-year-old maintenance man was sentenced yesterday to 18 months in jail for his role in the scalding death of his 1-year-old son in a Jessup motel room.
Mark Charles Titus was sentenced to five years in prison, with all but the 18 months suspended, for his conviction on involuntary manslaughter in the July 17, 1991 death of Joseph Erving Titus. The boy was found dead in the bathtub of a motel room where Titus and his wife worked and their family lived. He had been scalded to death.
"Eighteen months for murder? Of a baby?" said an angry Tom Bruno, brother-in-law of Rosemary Renee Titus, the dead boy's mother. "That ain't right. I can't believe they did that."
As Bruno stomped out of the courthouse, a woman in sunglasses said she was sure Titus was not capable of killing the baby. The woman, who said she was wearing a wig as a disguise and refused to identify herself other than to say she is Titus' girlfriend, said Titus is a good man, adding, "[The wife] doesn't know what she's lost."
Questions surrounding the boy's death remain unanswered. Prosecutor Frank Ragione says he's not sure exactly what happened in Room 20 of the Parkway Motel at Route 175 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, but he believes a statement Titus allegedly made to police provides the most likely explanation.
Police have said Titus, at the end of an 18-hour interrogation, told them the boy awoke him at 4:30 a.m. with soiled diapers. Titus told detectives he placed the boy in the tub, turned on the water and went to sleep.
But Titus, who pleaded guilty in March to involuntary manslaughter, denies making that statement. He admits only that he negligently left his three children alone in the motel room the morning of his son's death. During a sentencing hearing yesterday, his lawyer said Titus has no prior criminal record and suggested the man's 2-year-old son may have been responsible for theyounger boy's death.
"Since we're dealing with children, and no one else was present, we'll never know," attorney Owen M. Taylor said.
Taylor called as witnesses members of Titus' family, who said Rosemary Titus was far from an ideal mother. Rosemary Titus, who was not charged in her son's death, refused to comment after the sentencing.
The couple's other two children -- the oldest is a 6-year-old boy -- are in foster homes.
Titus had been charged with first-degree murder in the boy's death. In March he entered an Alford plea -- in which a defendant does not admit guilt but concedes prosecutors have enough evidence for a conviction -- to the charge of involuntary manslaughter. In return, he faced no more than six years in prison.
Ragione, the prosecutor, described the judge's sentence as "not inappropriate." He said he agreed to the plea bargain "because I couldn't prove an intent to kill," even with the confession.
The prosecutor said Titus flunked key parts of a lie detector test designed to help authorities determine whether he played a part in the child's death. Ragione said the wife, for the most part, passed a similar polygraph test. Such results are normally not admissible in court proceedings.
Still, the prosecutor noted that had the case gone to trial, he would have spent much of his time defending the wife, who worked nights behind the desk at the motel. She apparently returned to the motel room about 9 a.m. and found the baby's blistered body in the doorway to the bathroom. The other children were also in the room.
Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. said Titus will be eligible for work-release privileges while serving his jail sentence. The judge ordered Titus placed on probation for five years upon his release.
Titus, who was in jail for about three months after his arrest last July, has been free since his father put up his house to meet a $50,000 bond. He is scheduled to begin serving his sentence at 6 p.m. today.