Baltimore Circuit Judge John Addison Howard said yesterday that he couldn't believe that Rasul Malik Brown - with his long arrest record - was free when he fatally shot a teenager trying to help a friend in a fight over a $5 bag of marijuana.
"The number of sentences involving you, guns and drugs - it amazes me you are still on the street," Howard told Brown, 23, at his sentencing in Baltimore Circuit Court.
"Throughout your short life, you have continued to run afoul of the law. You should have received far greater sentences, and I can't make up for failures in other cases and other courtrooms."
Howard sentenced Brown to 75 years in prison for second-degree murder, first-degree assault and handgun charges. Howard ordered Brown to serve at least 10 years without the possibility of parole.
"Seventy-five years, it should protect us all," the prosecutor, Lisa Phelps, said after the hearing.
Howard said he had spent more time reviewing Brown's criminal history before imposing the sentence than in any other case.
Typically, Howard said, sentencing decisions are difficult for him, but this one "was not as difficult as others." Brown, Howard said, had not learned from "the breaks" he was given.
Brown's record included a nine-day sentence for a 2004 cocaine possession - a case in which he failed to appear in court three times - a six-month sentence for a 2005 theft and probation before judgment in a 2003 drug case.
In 2004, city prosecutors dropped multiple disorderly conduct, handgun and drug charges against him after dropping theft and armed robbery cases the year before. At the time of yesterday's sentence, court records show, Brown was wanted in Baltimore County for failing to appear in a 2006 drug-distribution case.
Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said that a host of issues factor into prosecutors' decisions to drop charges but that "justice was served" yesterday.
Brown declined to address the judge or the victim's family during the hearing.
The victim's stepfather, Theodore "Dino" Belvin, 37, who lives in Alabama, said he was satisfied with the sentence.
"Thanks to the power of ... " he said, pointing to Phelps, the prosecutor. "We're blessed."
During opening statements, Phelps said that, on the surface, the January 2007 homicide was typical of others in the city, a petty dispute over drugs that turned fatal. But it wasn't, she said.
The victim, Marcus McDowell, 16, had graduated high school early and with honors, had planned to attend community college last year and had no criminal record.
He wasn't involved in the drug deal, Phelps said, but his friend and another man who lived in the neighborhood were. Brown wasn't satisfied with what McDowell's friend was offering him, Howard said.
"You were disappointed you didn't get the quality you wanted," Howard said. "You wanted to save $30 to buy better quality but still intended to get the lesser quality by stealing it."
Brown then struck one of the men, who ran up the street and alerted McDowell. McDowell ran down the 5100 block of Harford Road to help his friend, who was still involved in the dispute, and jumped on Brown from behind.
"I know you believe you were defending yourself from Marcus McDowell," Howard told Brown. "But everything that day was caused by you, by you having a gun."