Melvin Lorenzo Jones was spared the death penalty yesterday and sentenced to life without parole for murdering and sexually assaulting Sister MaryAnn Glinka in her North Baltimore convent.
The Circuit Court jury cited Jones' drug habit and the lack of guidance from his family as reasons for choosing the lesser sentence.
"Melvin L. Jones' long-term use of illicit narcotics and his family's denial of the wrongness of his recurring criminal behavior are mitigating factors that must be considered as part of the sentencing process," the jury wrote on a verdict sheet after deliberating four hours and 15 minutes.
Those factors, jurors said, outweighed the "aggravating circumstances" -- that he murdered the 51-year-old Franciscan nun while robbing and sexually assaulting her.
The decision sat well with the slain nun's sister, who is also a nun.
"The sentence is just. If the death penalty came, it would be of particular anguish to link my sister's life of peace and service to Melvin Jones' death penalty," said Sister Patricia Glinka. "May God have mercy on him."
The Baltimore Archdiocese had come out against the state's pursuit of the death penalty in the case. The Franciscan nuns who observed the trial were split on whether Jones, 34, should be put to death, prosecutor Timothy J. Doory said.
"I'm glad that violence is not going to beget violence," said a nun who declined to give her name. "Violence ends where love begins, and that's what we're all about."
Sister Rita Mary Tan, major superior of the order, declined to comment, as did other nuns.
During closing arguments yesterday in the sentencing phase of the trial, Mr. Doory said Jones should receive a death sentence because he did not deserve "one drop of mercy."
"This man you sentence is evil," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, for the ultimate crime the ultimate penalty is appropriate."
Jones' lawyer, Phillip M. Sutley, quoted Pope John Paul II and told the jurors, "Show this man mercy, please."
The jury deliberated for 2 1/2 hours Monday before finding Jones guilty of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree rape, robbery, burglary and storehouse breaking and entering.
A nun at the Franciscan convent in the 3700 block of Ellerslie Ave. found Sister MaryAnn's body early March 19.
The body, bound and gagged, was found near the front door of the motherhouse. Sister MaryAnn's night clothes were pulled up above her waist. An autopsy showed she was already dead when she was sexually assaulted.
On the day of the murder, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke spoke of the "very heavy symbolism" of such a crime in a city already besieged by violence.
In a statement read to the jury Wednesday, Sister Rita Mary described Sister MaryAnn as "the spirit of the convent," whose loss left the sisters feeling lonely and fearful.
During her years with the Franciscan order, Sister MaryAnn was principal at Rosa Parks School in Northwest Baltimore and St. Clare's School in Essex. When she died, she was a superior at the convent, a job which entailed caring for the retired nuns who live there.
A native of Fells Point, she was a 13-year-old in the eighth grade at Chester Street's Holy Rosary Parochial School when she left Baltimore to join the Felician Sisters in New Jersey. In 1976, she joined the Franciscans, an order that came to the United States from Europe in the 19th century to establish an orphanage for black children.
After she died, she was remembered as a "tiny giant," thin and barely 5 feet tall but committed to helping the poor.
In the late 1980s, Jones, working for a contractor, was a painter at the convent after escaping from a minimum-security prison in North Carolina where he was serving 18 to 20 years for voluntary manslaughter.
Juror Scott Hemmeter said that in the end it was the nature of the evidence that persuaded jurors to sentence Jones to life.
"The biggest thing for me was the fact that he was convicted on circumstantial evidence only," Mr. Hemmeter said. "If there's even the slightest chance that he didn't do it, [the jurors] didn't want to be responsible for the finality of the death penalty."
Jones, who remained silent throughout the trial, appeared nervous but showed little reaction when the sentence was announced.
Later, Mr. Sutley said, "He's always maintained his innocence, but he's relieved he doesn't have to deal with a death warrant."
Judge John C. Themelis will formally sentence Jones on all of the convictions at a hearing Nov. 30.
Prosecutors said they have not decided whether Jones will have to stand trial Dec. 8 on a charge of robbing a bank three weeks before Sister MaryAnn was killed.