A suspended Baltimore police officer convicted of killing a woman who was pregnant with his baby and her 5-year-old daughter in Harford County was sentenced yesterday to consecutive life terms in prison.
Michael Edward Thompson avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty last month to the murders of Vicky Lee Austin and her daughter Jessica Elaine Morgan on April 13, 1998, at their home in rural Street, about nine miles north of Bel Air. Armed with a semiautomatic rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun, Thompson blasted his way into the bathroom as the mother bathed her kindergartner and repeatedly shot them at close range.
"It's high time society understands a little less and condemns a little more," visiting Judge Thomas J. Bollinger told a packed gallery in Carroll County Circuit Court, borrowing words he found in an anonymous note tacked onto the courtroom bench yesterday.
No one seemed to know who wrote the note, which Bollinger found. Courthouse workers believed it was unrelated to the Thompson case, perhaps written and posted by another judge.
Without further comment, Bollinger imposed the sentence, placing emphasis on the phrases "without parole" and "for the rest of your natural life." He directed Thompson be taken immediately to an unspecified state Division of Correction facility.
The defendant was not charged with a third killing because Maryland homicide laws do not apply to an unborn child. The case had been moved to Baltimore County and then to Carroll County because of its capital punishment status, which allowed the defense and the prosecution a change in venue.
Henry L. Belsky, Thompson's Baltimore attorney, asked that his client be placed in protective custody to keep him out of the general prison population because Thompson had worked with distinction as a police officer since 1994.
Bollinger said he lacked the authority to order protective custody, but agreed to recommend it.
Prosecutor Joseph I. Cassilly, state's attorney for Harford County, did not oppose the protective custody request, but he was clearly irritated by testimony from Thompson and members of his family.
"To hear the defendant describe himself as a victim appalls me," Cassilly said. "He used his position as a police officer to meet a dancer on The Block in Baltimore. He met her shortly after he was married and he had a series of choices all along the way.
"Michael Thompson chose to cheat on his wife, to have an affair and not to accept his responsibility" for getting the woman pregnant.
The victims' relatives told Bollinger how the deaths have affected them.
"Every day is a living hell," said Bruce Austin, recounting how his sister was looking forward to being a bridesmaid at his wedding and how his niece would have been a flower girl.
Linda Austin, the victims' mother and grandmother, recalled how Jessica visited her in Florida and always remembered "Officer Mike" in her night prayers.
"It's been 528 days," she said, glaring at Thompson. "May you suffer in hell until your dying day."
"She's the daughter I didn't think I wanted," said Jimmy Morgan, Jessica's father. "Now, all I have are pictures, her books, toys, a stuffed cat she gave me. I don't have her to hug and be hugged. I don't have Jessica."
Gail Thompson, the defendant's mother, and Sherry Thompson, his wife, told Bollinger they wanted him to know the real truth about Michael Thompson.
"He's kind, loving, a joy to be with," Sherry Thompson said. The Austins and Morgan "are not the only victims. We are suffering, too."
The defendant also testified, saying that "nothing I say or do can change what happened. I made a big mistake, acting out of extreme anger and rage. No one knows the psychology, the head games, the torture I went through."
"All she had to do was stop the threats, the harassment, calling my wife at all hours, the extortion for her to remain quiet."