An Arnold man who walked into a police station last year and told police he had killed his girlfriend received the maximum sentence yesterday, a 50-year prison term that the victim's parents said will protect their three young grandchildren from him.
"He is going to be an old man when he gets out. Then they can make up their own minds," said Laurice Dixon, who with her husband, Miles, is raising the children that her daughter, Latoya Brown, had with her killer, Deronta Lamont Howard.
She said she feared what Howard, now 25, might do to the children, a 4-year-old girl and 3-year-old twins, a boy and girl, who know no other home than the Dixons' in Glen Burnie. When the children are grown, Dixon said, they can ask their father why he killed their mother if he loved her, as he claimed. Dixon said the children do not understand that their mother is never returning, and cry for her when they blow kisses skyward.
"I'm pleased with the sentence. It won't bring her back. But the kids will be grown. Then it will be up to them whether to accept him in their life," said Miles Dixon.
Prosecutors estimated that Howard would not be eligible for parole consideration for at least 30 years.
Howard was taking Brown, then 19, to a mall on Feb. 15, 1999, when he fired five bullets into her head in his car, ending a turbulent five-year relationship.
Through his lawyer, T. Joseph Touhey, Howard maintained that he loved Brown, but Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Pamela L. North disagreed.
"I am apparently the only person in this courtroom who does not believe that you loved this girl," she said, telling Howard that he was like many a drug dealer who collects belongings.
"I think she was just another possession to you," North said.
Howard, who has three drug convictions, was on probation for possession with intent to distribute cocaine at the time of the killing. He will be returned to court next month for a probation violation hearing.
The Dixons said they did not know what their daughter saw in Howard, who they said flew into rages and who did little as a father beyond buy clothes for the children.
"He used to shower her with gifts. This is a good opportunity for teen-agers to look at their relationships and see what's going on. Clothes, all these rings, a pair of tennis shoes for each day of the week -- all that stuff is what's left," Laurice Dixon said.
Howard received 30 years for second-degree murder, plus 20 years for use of a handgun. Originally charged with first-degree murder, he pleaded guilty in February. North also recommended that Howard be evaluated for treatment at Patuxent Institution, after reading psychiatric reports stating that his anger was uncontrollable more than a decade ago. Diagnosed as bipolar and depressed, Howard failed to take medication and was untreated.
"I know I deserve everything I'm going to get," Howard told North moments before she sentenced him. He apologized to the family.
Arguments between Howard and Brown were frequent, and his jealousy so intense that he was happy when she was hospitalized for a chronic intestinal disorder because he knew where she was, the Dixons said. Hospitalizations had led her be home-tutored during much of her high school years. Though she quit before earning a diploma, she planned to complete her education, and frequently read to her childrenand began to teach them color names and the alphabet in preparation for school.
Dixon said she enrolled the eldest in kindergarten for the fall. "It's a shame not to have my daughter around to see it," she said.