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Man given 30 years in '97 killing; Pasadena woman was found dead in her bathtub; 'If I did it, I'm sorry'; Defendant's apology meets with rebuff from her family


The defendant dabbed at his eyes with a tissue as he asked the judge to consider his unhappy childhood before sentencing him for second-degree murder.

Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. sentenced Howard "Tommy" Brown to 30 years in prison yesterday for the strangulation in December 1997 of a 36-year-old woman from Pasadena he met in a bar.

In asking for mercy, defense attorney Robert Waldman told the judge that Brown's father left when Brown was a baby. Although Brown, now 26, was slow in school, his teachers never offered him special education classes.

A shoulder problem later made Brown unemployable, Waldman said. He also said Brown had low self-esteem and drank.

The victim, Brenda Lee Painter, a former Coast Guard employee, was found dead in her bathtub in her Pasadena home.

Turning to Painter's mother, Lucille Mitchell, Brown apologized for his lack of memory about what happened to her daughter.

"I'm not a killing type of person. I like to have fun," Brown told Mitchell.

"The thing about the killing? I don't remember doing it. If I did it, I'm sorry. I'm real sorry. I met your daughter at a bar, I bought her a drink."

"That doesn't mean anything," Mitchell shouted from the gallery.

"My daughter is dead. You're still alive."

"I wish I could die," Brown replied, shuffling behind the defense table. "I wish somebody would kill me."

"It's too late," Mitchell shouted.

After Painter's mother reported her missing a year ago, police found her dead in her bathtub with bruises on her throat and blood on the kitchen floor, according to court testimony.

Painter had met Brown -- who lived two blocks from her home -- at a bar, and the two looked for jobs. Shortly before Painter was killed, Brown apparently went to her house for dinner, according to court testimony.

What happened next was debated in the trial.

Assistant State's Attorney Frank Ragione said Brown strangled Painter, took her compact disc player and left his fingerprints on a soda can in Painter's home.

The defense suggested that Brown and Painter may have engaged in sexual activity that included simulating strangulation.

Brown may have misinterpreted Painter's thrashing and arm-waving, Waldman said.

"It's bizarre but not that unusual anymore," Waldman said.

Family upset

The disarray in Painter's home was not from a struggle or burglary, but rather the result of sloppy housekeeping, Waldman said.

Painter's family recoiled when the defense made this argument yesterday, shaking their heads and criticizing the "lies" and "pity party" offered for the defendant.

Police began to suspect Brown when they ran the fingerprints they found on a soda can in Painter's home through a computer system that printed out Brown's name, Ragione said. Brown's fingerprints were in the computer file because he had a criminal record that included convictions for a third-degree sexual offense, assault and battery, he said.

Told of killing

About a day after Painter's death, Brown told a prostitute in Baltimore that he had killed a woman named Brenda, Ragione said. The prostitute went to police, and they arrested Brown Jan. 1 last year.

Brown pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Sept. 24.

"It's very difficult to believe that what happened here was an accident," Thieme said before announcing the sentence yesterday. "To feel someone's life flow through your fingertips, incredible. You are a dangerous person."

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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