Backed by a gallery full of family and friends, Sara Elizabeth Citroni asked a three-judge panel to modify her sentence of two life terms Friday so that she can begin therapy to understand why she killed two people in July 1993.
"I know you expect me to be asking for a light sentence, but I know I don't deserve to be out yet," Citroni told Carroll County Judges Joann Ellinghaus-Jones, Francis M. Arnold and Luke K. Burns Jr.
"I know nothing I can say will relieve the pain felt by so many people because of my actions," she said. "I need help to return to society. I just want help."
That help currently is unavailable because the two consecutive life terms she is serving prohibit her from participating in therapy and vocational programs at the Patuxent Institution, her attorney, Daniel Green, told the judges. Citroni is serving time at a maximum security correctional facility in Jessup.
"Let's make something good happen out of all this bad," Mr. Green said.
In July, Citroni, now 19, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy in planning and carrying out the slayings of Cathyrn Farrar and George William Wahl.
Her accomplice and Ms. Farrar's son, Jason Aaron DeLong, was found not criminally responsible for the double murder, but guilty and responsible for conspiracy to kill his mother, who defense attorneys said sexually and emotionally abused her child for years.
DeLong is being treated at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center and will begin serving a life sentence when he is released.
"Our goal in this proceeding is to limit the tragedy to two lives lost, not three," said Mr. Green, one of the public defenders assigned to Citroni, after the hearing.
Throughout the hearing, psychiatrists, teachers and family members portrayed Citroni as an average teen-ager whose life took a tragic turn when her mother died of pancreatic cancer in fall 1992.
Citroni, the second eldest of five children, was dependent upon her mother and could not cope with the loss when Rosemary Citroni died, said several witnesses.
Although teachers and family members noticed a drastic change in Citroni -- going from an average student involved in athletics to a truant punk rocker with failing grades -- attempts at intervention were unsuccessful, they said.
The final straw was when she failed geometry by a few points after a burst of hard work to get her life back together. The failing grade kept her from graduating from Franklin High School last year, they said.
"I asked the teacher if she could retake the exam after studying the material a little more," said Lori Fogelman, Citroni's assistant principal at Franklin. The teacher did not grant the request, she said.
"I knew this was a blow this child could not stand," said Ms. Fogelman, who is now principal at Lansdowne High School. "The lack of graduating was something I felt she would not be able to deal with successfully."
That summer, she met DeLong -- also an unhappy teen-ager -- at Cranberry Mall in Westminster. A week later, the two planned the murders of Ms. Farrar and her boyfriend, Mr. Wahl.
Now, Citroni -- who has earned her high school graduate equivalency certificate and is tutoring other inmates -- says she is appalled she let herself help a near-stranger kill his mother and wants to find out why.
She also wants to get vocational training to help prepare for a career if and when she is released.
"Let her go to a place where she can get better," Mr. Green said. "There is a fine person within in her. I ask you to let us discover that fine person."
But Ara Crowe, an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore who tried the case, worked to return the focus to the two murder victims during his closing arguments. Mr. Crowe prosecuted the case because Mr. Wahl was a brother-in-law of former Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman.
Calling Ms. Farrar "a very sick woman with legitimate psychotic episodes," Mr. Crowe urged the judges to remember the brutality of Citroni's crime. He also stressed that Mr. Wahl had been an innocent victim.
"William Wahl was a gentle, kind man who never did anything to anyone," Mr. Crowe said. "Mr. Green has said, 'Without hope there is no life for Sara.' Yet this woman and this woman [Mr. Wahl's mother and sister] have no hope because Mr. Wahl has no life. This woman [Citroni] is directly responsible."
And yet, the animosity Mr. Crowe hinted at wasn't apparent when the hearing ended. Through tears, members of the Citroni and Wahl families embraced in the aisle of the courtroom, each consoling the other for their loss.
The judicial panel is expected to hand down a decision in 30 days.