A man who walked into an Odenton police station last year caked in blood and told officers he shot his girlfriend to death pleaded guilty yesterday to the crime in an agreement the victim's parents hope will keep him jailed until he is an old man.
Deronta Lamont Howard, 25, held his head in his hands as prosecutors told Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Pamela L. North how the Arnold resident's turbulent five-year relationship with Latoya Brown ended Feb. 15, 1999, with the death of the 19-year-old mother of his three children. He said nothing in court but looked fondly at his relatives who filled half the courtroom.
"Did you see, he still had that smile on his face," said Laurice Dixon, mother of the victim, whose family and friends filled the other half of the courtroom. "I want to know that he will be in jail long enough for the children to grow up away from him, and then, when they are older and grown up, they can make their own decisions about him."
Brown's children, a 4-year-old girl and 3-year-old twins, live with Dixon and her husband, Miles, at the couple's Glen Burnie home.
Arguments between Howard and Brown were frequent, the Dixons said. They said he would be in a jealous rage and she would threaten to end the relationship; afterward, he would take her shopping to make up.
The pattern continued last February, as Howard told people he was going to kill Brown, said Lawrence J. Caporale, assistant state's attorney. "If I can't have her, nobody can," he had said, according to Caporale.
The couple was going to a movie or going shopping the day Howard shot Brown five times in the head in his car. He then abandoned the car with Dixon's body in the parking lot of an Arnold grocery store.
Howard pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and illegal use of a handgun.
Prosecutors said they will ask for the maximum prison term -- 50 years -- when North sentences Howard on May 8. Caporale said that although Howard was charged with first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, prosecutors thought a plea agreement was appropriate and would limit animosity between the two families for the sake of Howard's and Brown's children.
Defense lawyers said the slaying was a crime of passion and did not merit a first-degree murder charge. The plea agreement allows the defense to seek a shorter sentence.
Howard's lawyers and the victim's parents described Howard, who had a juvenile record and was on probation for drug convictions at the time of the murder, as an angry and violent person who grew up in a violent environment. Howard's lawyers said that his father was jailed for attempted murder and that his cousin was murdered.
"This is a kid that is filled with rage and has problems. He may have been in love with this woman, but he killed her. Why he did it, I can't explain it," said defense lawyer T. Joseph Touhey. He said Howard's family would not comment.
Touhey said his client had a history of psychiatric problems. Howard is being held in a psychiatric ward at Patuxent Institution in Jessup.
Shaking her head, Dixon said that her daughter saw "good in him that nobody else saw," and that she wrote poetry about him.
"He wanted to be her shadow," said Miles Dixon, who recalled that Howard followed Brown around the house, even to the bathroom. "I used to tell him all the time, he should pay the mortgage, he spent so much time at the house."
Brown suffered from Crohn's disease, a chronic intestinal disorder that often left her tired and unable to leave home. The illness required so many hospitalizations that she was home-tutored in high school.
Dixon recalled that Howard was so jealous of his girlfriend that he was happy when Brown was hospitalized, because he knew where she was and what she was doing.
At the time of her death, she was recovering after a lengthy stay at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
On the night before the murder, the couple went to a club together, but Brown refused to leave with Howard, Caporale said.
The next afternoon, the couple argued at her home. After her mother left to go to a store with the couple's eldest child, Brown and Howard took the twins and left them with his relatives, saying they were going to a mall. Some time after that, Howard shot Brown to death and left her body in the grocery store parking lot.
Howard confessed to relatives that he killed Brown. The relatives described Howard as being suicidal when he arrived at their home, Touhey said. His aunt took him to the Western District police station in Odenton, giving police a bloodstained Bible and a gun, prosecutors said.
Caporale said Howard told police he killed Brown, saying, "I can't believe I did it. I'm scared. I loved that girl more than anything."