Police regret freeing accused child killer Brown was able to plea bargain to assault charges


The New York authorities who kept Shawn E. Brown in prison for nine years are now sickened that they let him go so soon soon enough for the predator of children to land in a Baltimore jail on charges that he murdered two boys.

"I arrest people all the time who I feel sorry for. I never felt sorry for this guy," said Peter D. Tynan, the Syracuse, N.Y., detective who investigated Mr. Brown's 1986 attacks against two young boys there. "He struck me as someone inherently evil."

For the Syracuse attacks choking one child until blood spilled from his eyes and smashing the other in the head with a rock before trying to drown him Mr. Brown was offered a plea bargain on assault charges and jailed from 1986 to 1995.

But his sentence wasn't nearly enough, investigators now say, not given the crimes committed by a man described as having "violent urges to kill young people" sexually brutal desires chronicled in diaries confiscated by police.

"We feel horrible up here that the guy we arrested and we prosecuted hurt kids down there," said Mr. Tynan. "I can't believe there was a plea bargain."

William J. Fitzpatrick, the prosecutor who had Mr. Brown indicted for the Syracuse assaults, says he was adamant that the defendant face a severe sentence that a deal would be offered only for guilty pleas to two counts of attempted murder.

How could they offer anything less to a man who left a drawing with one of his unconscious victims that said: "I'm a wolf among you."

With guilty pleas for attempted murder, the state would have recommended consecutive maximum sentences for a combined term of 17 to 50 years. But by the time Shawn Brown's case got to court in 1988 after a series of snags and delays over his mental state, Mr. Fitzpatrick was no longer in the district attorney's office.

And for reasons that are still unclear, his instructions were ignored.

In exchange for pleading guilty to one count of first-degree assault, Mr. Brown was given three to nine years. Serving the full sentence allowed him to walk out of prison last June as a free man with no obligation to check in with anyone.

"You can't lock people up forever," says Judge J. Kevin Mulroy, who sentenced Mr. Brown in Syracuse. "We have to recognize that people, as dangerous as they may be, can serve their time and go free."

None of which sits well with Mr. Fitzpatrick, who has returned to his old office as district attorney.

"I'm sure the people who handled the file have all kinds of excuses as to why it was handled the way it was," he said. "It rings very hollow to me and I'm sure it rings very hollow to the families of the two boys in Baltimore."

A troubled past

Since his childhood in Baltimore, the criminal justice system has had to deal with Shawn Brown.

In fact, it repeatedly has been forced to deal with a man who invents alter egos for himself, yet claims to live by the dictum: "To thine own self be true "

Now, with the recent strangulation deaths of two Baltimore boys 8-year-old Marvin "Bear" Wise, whom Mr. Brown claims to have "loved," and 16-year-old Obdul Richards, whose body was found by police with help from Mr. Brown the system is dealing with him again.

Young Richards, missing since late January, was found dead in a boarded-up Catholic school at East Eager and Valley streets on March 1.

Marvin Wise's body was found in a vacant 12th-floor apartment in the Flag House Courts public housing complex on Feb. 25. The child lived with his mother on the 11th floor, and Mr. Brown was staying with relatives on the 10th floor, according to police.

The night before his body was found, "Bear" attended a pajama party held by Mr. Brown on the 10th floor.

Mr. Brown, interviewed at the Baltimore City Detention Center by The Sun, maintained he is innocent of both charges.

"I wish they had put him in some type of program that would have helped him, instead of keeping him locked up all those years, and then, one day, just releasing him," said Ida Dail, Mr. Brown's mother. "I keep thinking, if it's not too late, I still want to get him some help."

Help was offered

A chronic school truant, Mr. Brown began running away from his home in Baltimore's Reservoir Hill community at 13, behavior that got him to the Maryland Training School for Boys, which also failed to hold him.

After one of his reform school escapes, police found him with journal entries describing violent sex with boys, which in 1986 led authorities to send him to a Johns Hopkins Hospital clinic for sexual disorders.

Dr. Fred Berlin, the clinic director who, according to a police report, treated Mr. Brown for "violent urges to kill young people," would not comment about him last week.

Mr. Brown walked away from the Hopkins clinic on June 14, 1986, before receiving a complete evaluation, a hospital official said at the time. From Hopkins, he slipped onto a series of northbound Greyhounds without bothering to buy a ticket.

Attack in a playground

Five days later, he landed in Syracuse, and gravitated to a playground where seven-year-old Timmy Widger and his five-year-old brother, Matthew, were playing.

Timmy, a high school dropout who works for a moving company, has no memory of the attack. But Matthew remembers it vividly.

There was no warning from this seemingly friendly stranger, the boys said in an interview. Nothing about Mr. Brown seemed odd.

Mr. Brown followed Timmy from the swings to a merry-go-round and began spinning it for the boy before reaching down to pick up Timmy's windbreaker.

"He wrapped it around [Timmy's] neck, then he pulled it like this," Matthew remembered, fists straining at the arms of an imaginary jacket. "He just kept doing it it seemed like a long time."

Mr. Brown finally dropped the jacket and when Matthew ran to his brother, Timmy was "crying, not even tears, he was crying blood."

By the time Timmy could help police a few days later, Mr. Brown was a suspect in a second attack on a child a 10-year-old Syracuse boy named Rommell Williams, whom he confessed to trying to strangle with a shoelace.

In the aftermath of his attack, Timmy became withdrawn, cried a lot and stayed by his mother's side. He started throwing things, hitting people and jumping off the roof of his house.

"He would hurt himself and say he wanted to die," his mother said.

Mr. Brown would tell investigators that he was raped as a child by two strangers, and explain: "I would see other kids and it would make me mad or jealous, to see them having a good time and living normally and I knew that I wasn't normal."

The knowledge that he wasn't normal that in fact he was something of an aberration even among convicts apparently kept Shawn Brown from seeking therapy for his problems during the nine years in prison.

At a 1989 parole hearing, Mr. Brown said that group therapy "would simply be a facade because I wouldn't be able to open up in that group I thought it would be a waste of their time."

Near the end of the hearing, Mr. Brown claimed that he was not in control of himself during the attacks.

"I don't make an excuse of that," he said. "But generally, the last thing I wanted to do was hurt anybody, especially a child."

Different from other children

Mr. Brown grew up in Reservoir Hill with his mother, sister and a brother named Brian Beard, who would grow up to be charged with raping a woman while aware that he had AIDS.

Also at the Madison Avenue home were Mr. Brown's grandparents, members of the Jehovah's Witnesses movement.

"It was basically, 'You have to stay in the house, you have to stay away from the world of children,' " Mr. Brown said in the recent interview at the Baltimore jail.

His mother, 14 when she had Shawn and now 41, looks back on her rules as being for her son's own good, not anything harsh or unusual.

"I tried to protect my kids from what went on in the street," said the articulate, soft-spoken woman who is now raising a new family of three small children in East Baltimore.

Shawn didn't have many friends growing up, she said, and spent his early years reading science fiction books and playing with a chemistry set. He seemed different from other children, she said.

"He talked about wanting to be a writer, and he had beautiful dreams of inventing things," she remembered.

One day when Shawn was 7, he came home from school and told his mother he'd been sexually assaulted. Police drove Shawn who showed no injuries around the neighborhood to look for his two attackers, but the boy couldn't identify anyone.

"It seemed kind of far-fetched at the time," Ms. Dail said, "but looking back on it, maybe something did happen."

'I like my own company'

Mr. Brown says he never missed his family or friends while spending nearly a decade in prison. "If I had a nickel for every time I was called a loner in my life, I'd be a millionaire by now," he says.

He said he's only had one or two close friends in his life and a lone girlfriend, facts he said don't trouble him. "I like my own company."

$40 and freedom

On June 18, New York prison officials gave Mr. Brown $40 and set him free.

He stayed with his mother soon after arriving in Baltimore, at her Bonaparte Avenue home. He said he wanted to find work and start life over again.

"He didn't want to accept anything from me," Ms. Dail said. After about two weeks, he moved out amid tension. "He still had that Attica kind of thing in him," she said.

Moving from house to house and taking buses from one end of the city to the other, Mr. Brown walked around with a burgundy book bag. In it, he kept toiletries, comic books and even a few baseball cards he liked to trade with children.

He lived in shelters, the streets, with friends and with his sister at Flag House Courts.

At Flag House, news had gotten around that he was a convicted child abuser. Mr. Brown's aunt had warned his sister to spread the word about his past. It was not enough, apparently, to prevent parents from sending their kids to pajama parties with Mr. Brown as the host.

At the Christopher Place shelter for the homeless on Eager Street, he earned a reputation for being well-groomed, well-read and weird.

"Shawn was a very, very hyper person," says Derrick "Mickey Mouse" Hawks, a 21-year-old regular there. "Shawn could not sit down for a long conversation. He had to get up and pace, often furiously, back and forth. Sitting down, he would have to wiggle his feet."

One day in early January during the area's mammoth snowstorm, Mr. Brown announced that he was going to get himself committed to a mental hospital, Mr. Hawks said.

He took off all his clothes and headed out to the corner of Greenmount Avenue and Eager Street, a block away. "He was butterball naked, except for one thing: He still kept his boots on," said Mr. Hawks, who said he was a good friend of Mr. Brown's. "He was trying to get into a mental hospital."

About two weeks later, on Jan. 27, Obdul Richards was reported missing, and Bear Wise was found strangled on Feb. 25.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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