Killer spared death penalty in gun shop slayings of 2 elderly sisters


A 20-year-old Bel Air man charged in the shooting deaths of two elderly sisters in their Havre de Grace gun shop last October was spared a death penalty trial when prosecutors agreed yesterday to accept a lesser plea rather than reveal the names of confidential informants.

Kenneth Robert Brodt pleaded guilty to two counts of felony murder and two counts of armed robbery in Baltimore County Circuit Court as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors.

As part of the deal, Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly withdrew his notice of intention to seek the death penalty.

In exchange, Brodt's attorneys, Luther West and Jim Wyda, agreed not to force Mr. Cassilly to reveal the names of five confidential police informants who helped police with the investigation.

The worst sentence that Brodt now faces is two consecutive life terms in prison.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 21. Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz, who accepted Brodt's guilty plea, is to preside at the sentencing hearing.

Brodt originally was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The case was moved from Harford County because of extensive pretrial publicity.

Mr. Wyda said yesterday that Brodt will give his version of what happened during the robbery when he is sentenced and explain why he is not the man who shot the two women.

"My client pleaded guilty to felony murder under the theory that he participated in a robbery during which the women were killed, not that my client shot them himself," said Mr. Wyda.

Bessie Urban Mitchell, 73, owner of the Sportsman's Center, and her sister, Emily Urban Hamby, 75, were gunned down about 1 p.m. Oct. 18, 1991, during a robbery in which numerous weapons and about $150 were stolen.

Mrs. Mitchell was shot 10 times in the head, according to a medical examiner's report entered into evidence.

Mrs. Hamby died of a single gunshot wound to the head, according to evidence.

Mr. Cassilly said he would have preferred to seek a death sentence for Brodt, but was concerned that revealing confidential sources would hurt those sources -- and hamper future police investigations.

"We have to encourage people to come forward" to provide information to the police, he said. "And we have to understand that there are a lot of nasty, bad people out there who might retaliate" against informants.

"The next time we had a case, someone with information might say, 'Hey, I read about so-and-so. [The police] gave him up,' " the prosecutor added.

Judge Levitz had ordered the prosecution to turn over the names of informants who had told police about other suspects in the case.

The police used the information to obtain search warrants, but no evidence was turned up as a result of those searches.

Mr. Wyda, an assistant public defender, said the judge ordered the names turned over because those people had told police that people other than Brodt were bragging about murdering the women and robbing the gun shop.

The slayings of the elderly sisters stunned the historic riverfront town of Havre de Grace and led to a three-month investigation by state troopers and Havre de Grace police.

Brodt was arrested in January, and police found a gun stolen from the shop in the family's home. They later recovered stolen guns from another man who said Brodt had left them with him for safekeeping.

Police also matched a palm print at the gun shop to Brodt and linked a bloody footprint at the scene to a pair of Brodt's shoes, Mr. Cassilly said.

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