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Laborer convicted in co-worker's killing

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A 20-year-old laborer was convicted of second-degree murder yesterday in the killing of a co-worker at a Woodlawn apartment complex after a trial that focused not on whether the defendant stabbed the victim, but on whether he meant to kill him.

Robert L. Sheppard of the 200 block of Spring Court in Baltimore was convicted after a three-day trial before Baltimore County Circuit Judge Christian M. Kahl.

Sheppard admitted through his lawyer yesterday that he stabbed Derrick Shelton Dorkins, 41, during an argument July 19, 1999, at the Security Park complex in the 7400 block of Fairbrook Road.

But Kahl ruled the evidence failed to prove that the killing was willful, deliberate and premeditated, which are requirements for the first-degree murder conviction sought by prosecutors. "We don't know when, if at all, the defendant formed the intent to kill," Kahl said.

Sheppard stabbed Dorkins 12 times, according to medical testimony.

Sheppard also taunted Dorkins as he clutched at his neck wounds and walked to the rental office to get help, tenants at the complex testified.

Karen Santangelo, a former rental agent in the complex, said that Dorkins showed up at her office weak, winded and bleeding. Dorkins identified Sheppard as the assailant, then collapsed near the rental office, she said.

Assistant State's Attorney Peter McDowell acknowledged in closing arguments that he had no motive for the slaying. But he argued that the number of stab wounds coupled with Sheppard's taunting of the victim were evidence of an intent to kill.

"We'll never know why people do stupid things. We'll never know why Mr. Dorkins was murdered that day," he said.

Assistant public defender F. Spencer Gordon, Sheppard's lawyer, said that Sheppard suffered from a personality disorder and that his mental state may have played a role in the slaying.

Carrie Palmer, Sheppard's sister, testified that she was afraid of her brother, that he talked to pictures on the walls and that children teased him as being crazy.

"This was a frenzied impulsive act by a mind that was out of control," Gordon said in closing arguments.

Sheppard could receive up to 30 years in prison when Kahl sentences him Nov. 29, McDowell said. Kahl ordered a pre-sentence investigation and a psychiatric evaluation of Sheppard for sentencing.

Dorkins' family was disappointed with the verdict. They said Sheppard should have been in treatment for his mental problems long before the murder.

"A prison sentence of 30 years is not going to rehabilitate his state of mind," Kimberly Dorkins, the victim's sister, said.

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