A 19-year-old Baltimore man became the youngest of Maryland's 14 death row inmates yesterday when he was sentenced for killing the manager of a Burger King in Hunt Valley during a robbery just before Christmas 2000.
Courtney Bryant of the 3200 block of Garrison Ave. stood stone-faced as he listened to Baltimore County Circuit Judge Alexander Wright Jr. pronounce sentence after a three-day hearing that focused on the killer's troubled childhood.
Bryant was convicted Dec. 11 in the murder of James Stambaugh Jr., who was bound with duct tape, stabbed and beaten repeatedly during an after-hours robbery on Dec. 23, 2000, that netted Bryant and three accomplices $2,800.
Bryant showed little emotion during yesterday's testimony, becoming tearful only once - shortly before the sentence was pronounced - when he apologized to his mother, Robin Bryant, for the grief he had caused her.
"It's going to be all right," he told his mother, seated a few feet away. "No matter what the judge gives me. It's going to be all right."
Wright said he could not show mercy, in part because he was unmoved by the apology Bryant offered Stambaugh's parents, telling them he was "sorry for the death of your son."
"I'd just like to ask you to forgive me," Bryant had said in a mechanical voice.
"Mouthing the words does not make it so," Wright told Bryant. "Perhaps it was heartfelt, but it was not enough for this court to believe that mercy should be a factor."
The victim's father, James Stambaugh Sr., said Bryant's apology was insincere and that he was gratified by the sentence. "I'm glad that he got what he got."
Stambaugh, 41, said he visits his only son's grave at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens every day, has contemplated suicide and is unable to work full time because of the emotional loss.
"Everyone's been saying [Bryant] is only 18. Well, Jimmie was only 21 and he had his whole life ahead of him," Stambaugh said. "I want [Bryant] to suffer."
Experts testifying on Bryant's behalf said his violent childhood left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to defense testimony, neighborhood youths broke Bryant's leg when he was 11, he had sex with babysitters at age 9, and his mother beat him with a hammer and baseball bat and threatened him with a knife.
"What she did was beat Mr. Bryant and beat him down," Catherine Flynn, one of Bryant's lawyers, told Wright in closing arguments.
Flynn argued that Bryant should receive a life sentence because the murder was his first violent crime and a psychologist found that he could be treated.
But Assistant State's Attorneys Mickey Norman and Marsha Russell told the judge that Bryant had planned the robbery and recruited his accomplices. They said it was his decision to kill Stambaugh because Bryant had worked in the restaurant and Stambaugh had recognized him.
"He was the one who kept pushing and pushing for this robbery to take place," Russell said.
Based on the "sheer brutality" of the murder, Norman said, he would have sought the death sentence for Andre Lawson, an accomplice, because he also beat Stambaugh. But because Lawson was 17 at the time of the killing, he was ineligible, Norman said.
"Mr. Stambaugh was fighting for his life, and the testimony was that they beat him so hard there were pieces of duct tape found inside his brain," Norman said.
Lawson, now 18, was convicted Sept. 24 of first-degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. He faces sentencing tomorrow before Wright and could receive life without parole.
Sentences are pending for two others convicted in the case. William F. Jones, 18, who worked at the Burger King, was acquitted of murder and robbery charges but convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery. Breon C. English, 17, who testified against Bryant as part of a plea agreement, pleaded guilty to murder May 3.
Bryant becomes the 10th inmate on Maryland's death row in a Baltimore County case. Four death row inmates have nearly exhausted their appeals and could be executed this year.
Steven Oken, 40, is scheduled to be executed the first week of March for the 1987 killing of a White Marsh newlywed.