Saying "life is priceless," a man convicted of killing his landlady and her daughter-in-law in 2002 told an Anne Arundel County judge who is considering sentencing him to death: "I'm just sorry for everyone's losses today."
Speaking for a few seconds, Kenneth Ernest Abend neither specifically addressed killing his landlady, Laverne M. Browning, and Tamie C. Browning, nor sought mercy. His lawyer said he was remorseful.
But Debbie Browning, Laverne Browning's daughter, was not swayed. "I don't call that an apology," she said. "I think he was coached by his cell buddies and by his family. I didn't believe a word of it." She noted that Abend, 42, did not turn to speak to his victims' relatives.
Yesterday's hearing was the last opportunity for prosecutors to call for Abend's death and for the defense to ask for life imprisonment instead. In presenting witnesses over the past week, Abend's lawyers contended that he endured a life marked by abuse, violence and drugs from an early age and later suffered head injuries.
Circuit Judge Pamela L. North, who heard the case without a jury, did not say when she will decide.
Last week, North also heard from the victims' family. Laverne Browning's grown children, Randy and Debbie Browning, were allowed to speak after North reversed her earlier ruling that would have delayed their testimony until after the judge decided whether Abend should be executed.
Laverne Browning, 70, a tavern owner who rented a room in her Glen Burnie home to Abend, and Tamie Browning, 36, were fatally shot and beaten in Abend's room Jan. 12, 2002. Last month, North convicted him of capital murder and other counts, including a sexual offense against Tamie Browning.
Assistant State's Attorney Frank J. Ragione told the judge that the crime was particularly sadistic, done by a man who said he did not recall what happened but was rational enough immediately afterward to begin a cover-up. The brutal crime took a mother and grandmother from her family, robbed a 6-year-old girl of her mother's love and protection, and widowed a young father, he said.
"When the defendant, Mr. Abend, started dealing and using drugs, he made a devil's bargain ... When the payment comes due, there's hell to pay," Ragione said.
In deciding Abend's sentence, North must consider factors that favor sparing Abend's life as well those favoring a death sentence.
Abend had "the worst possible genes for substance abuse, the worst environment" and an addiction to PCP, said lead defense lawyer Harry J. Trainor.
Trainor also detailed a chaotic, abusive childhood in which his mother lost custody of her children when he was 2 years old. He said Abend lived with his father, grandparents and their extended family - a changing set of adults and children - on a farm in Gambrills, where he endured a series of traumas. For three generations, he said, many men in the family were alcoholics or drug-abusers.
Abend started with drugs at the age of 12, dropped out of high school and was shot in a drug-related incident at age 16. He later sustained several head injuries, including, Trainor said, a 2001 beating by an ex-girlfriend's boyfriend that was so severe that Abend suffered brain damage and post-traumatic stress disorder. A PCP-related car crash came months later.
Trainor said Abend suffered a psychotic episode at the time of the killings but has been doing well in the jail's structured, drug-free environment, helping other inmates, leading prayers and taking part in programs.
Pleading for Abend's life, Trainor said that "as a human being, he [Abend] is not the worst of the worst." He said Abend would be a positive influence on younger prisoners.
Trainor told the judge that prosecutors are pursuing a death sentence for political reasons, citing a meeting a few months ago with Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.
Trainor said Weathersbee, who is elected, told him that he would pursue the death penalty because "there are more votes in the Elks Lodge in Pasadena if I pursue the death penalty."
Asked later, Weathersbee said, "That's ridiculous." He said that during their meeting, he told Trainor that Abend's heavy drug use - which North can consider in deciding Abend's fate - was not a reason to drop his pursuit of a death sentence. "I represent the people of Anne Arundel County, including this area of Pasadena. They support the death penalty," Weathersbee said.