Donald Antonio White Jr. was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole yesterday in the killing of police Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero in an emotional hearing that focused on White's career as a criminal and Prothero's life as a father.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe said in sentencing White that she couldn't understand why he was free at the time of the killing, given his criminal past.
"He's led a terrible life. I wonder when I look at this record, where has the system been? Why wasn't he locked up, what was he doing out on the street?" Howe asked.
White, a 19-year-old Baltimore resident, was convicted by a jury Aug. 24 of first-degree felony murder, armed robbery and assault. After yesterday's hearing, the dead officer's mother, Joan Prothero, said the life sentence "was the best we could hope for."
Bruce Prothero, a 35-year-old father of five, was shot three times Feb. 7 as he chased four suspects out of J. Brown Jewelers in Pikesville, where he was working a second job as a security guard.
In a courtroom packed with Prothero's family and fellow Baltimore County officers, Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst recited the details of White's long criminal record, which includes an assault conviction in a 1998 shooting and attempted murder convictions in two shootings last year. All took place in Baltimore.
She also said that he bragged about the Prothero killing while he was awaiting trial at the Baltimore County Detention Center, telling an inmate that Prothero "got what he deserved, playing hero."
"He stole Bruce's life. He stole the lives of his family and he stole his children's childhoods," Brobst told the court.
White, who Brobst said has never held a job, has a criminal record that dates to 1996, when he was convicted in juvenile court of possession of cocaine. He violated parole twice before turning 16 and was convicted as an adult of cocaine distribution and handgun charges, Brobst said.
At the time Prothero was killed, White was being sought on warrants after failing to appear for trial in the two city shootings last year. He has since pleaded guilty in both cases, Brobst said.
"This was a case of a criminal justice system that went awry," she said.
The case prompted calls in February for stepped-up efforts to apprehend suspects charged in warrants. City Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris announced last summer the formation of a regional warrant task force.
White declined to address the court when given the chance by Howe. But his lawyer, William C. Brennan Jr., noted that White was unarmed on the day of the murder and was the least involved of the four defendants charged.
Brennan said that Richard Antonio Moore, 30, was the alleged shooter, that his brother, Wesley John Moore, 25, allegedly used a handgun in the robbery and that Troy White, 25, helped plan the robbery. All are from Baltimore.
Troy White, who is no relation, has been convicted of first-degree felony murder in the case and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 17. Trials for the Moore brothers are pending.
"Their culpability and their role in this is certainly more extreme than my client's role," Brennan said.
But Howe said she considered White as guilty as the person who fired the shots that killed Prothero. "He's just as culpable as if he handled the handgun himself."
Prothero's brother and sister told the judge yesterday how the father of triplets loved his work, lived for his family - and is sorely missed.
"How do you tell your parents that they've lost a son? How do you tell a 6-year-old, and three 4-year-old children that their father will not be coming home again?" Rick Prothero asked, choking back tears.
He told Howe that his brother was the youngest of eight children, grew up in Rockville, married his high school sweetheart and always wanted to be a police officer.
Prothero, who glared at White as he walked off the witness stand, said his brother routinely made the 45-minute trip to their parents' home in Rockville on weekends to mow the grass or work on the house.
After the killing, he had to clean out the trunk of his brother's car and he found books Prothero had been using to study for the county police promotional exam alongside camping gear he used with his children.
"He had his goals, but his family always came first," he said.
Lisa Ash, a sister, said she learned about her brother's death from a radio news broadcast.
"I began to just wail," she said.
She said the pain of her brother's death "weighs on my heart like a cinderblock" and that the family remains grief-stricken. "I say to you, Dad, you can turn off the porch light now, you're baby's not coming home," Ash told a hushed courtroom.
Brobst said 21 relatives and friends wrote victim impact letters to Howe, including the victim's widow, Ann Prothero, and his mother. The letters are sealed under state law.
Ann Prothero declined to comment after the hearing. Joan Prothero said she will probably write a different letter for Troy White's sentencing and for each defendant who is convicted.
"We have to do that much for Bruce," she said.