A Waverly man drew 30 years in prison yesterday for murdering a retired Johns Hopkins University professor during a robbery in May.
Had he not punched Dr. William H. McClain, a lover of German literature, Keith T. Curtis would not be going to prison for murder. But the punch knocked Dr. McClain backward and his head hit the concrete porch floor of his Oakenshawe home; he died two days later of brain injuries.
"I happen to believe that there is a sanctity to life, and one who takes a life has a good deal to answer for," Baltimore Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown said in sentencing Curtis to life in prison with all but 30 years suspended.
Dr. McClain, the former chairman of Hopkins' German department, was returning from an evening at the ballet with a friend when Curtis approached him on the porch in the 3400 block of Oakenshaw Place. The friend, a retired professor from St. Mary's College, also was punched and robbed. Curtis told police he netted $75 in the robbery.
Curtis, 27, pleaded guilty in January, under a law requiring that a slaying committed during a felony -- such as robbery -- be treated as first-degree murder. A man described by prosecutors as a lookout in the robbery pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Curtis' prison term was 10 years longer than that requested by defense attorney Leslie A. Stein, who said his client's record -- including convictions for theft and unauthorized use of an auto -- JTC gave no hint that he ever would be involved in a murder.
He also said Curtis did not use a weapon in the robbery."Were it not for a freak circumstance . . . we would not be talking about a murder here today," Mr. Stein said.
Assistant State's Attorney Gary D. Schenker said the two men were motivated by greed.
"Because of that need to have something they didn't have, Dr. McClain died," Mr. Schenker said.
Marilyn Basom, a younger sister of Dr. McClain who lives in Ohio, trembled as she told the judge she hoped Curtis would be tormented for "an eternity" for what he had done. She said her brother was reaching for his wallet when he was punched.
"I would just like to ask Keith why he had to be so brutal," Ms. Basom said. "If he had just been a little more patient, he'd have had the money."
Curtis responded by saying he never intended to kill Dr. McClain. Though he maintained in a presentencing report that he was wrongly accused, he said yesterday he had been "in denial" then and was ready to accept responsibility.
"What I have to say here will never bring Mr. McClain back," Curtis said. "I can never say I'm sorry enough."