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Detective's killer gets life without parole

The 23-year-old Baltimore man convicted of killing an off-duty city detective in a robbery attempt outside his girlfriend's home was sentenced yesterday to life in prison without parole.

In issuing the sentence for the murder of Detective Troy Lamont Chesley Sr., Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy Doory described Brandon Grimes as a "cruel and cowardly criminal" whom the citizens of Baltimore had "every reason to fear" for "every day of his adult life."

Chesley's mother, Joyce, began sobbing on the stand, and a detective stepped in to finish reading her written remarks.

When asked whether she had anything to add, Joyce Chesley turned to face Grimes, who was sitting at the defense table a few feet away, and propped up a small photo of her son on the ledge of the witness box.

"I have to go to the cemetery twice a week to see my son and talk to him," she said. "You should have been put away a long time ago, long time ago."

Grimes showed no emotion during the two-hour hearing and declined to say anything. He whispered, "I love you, too," to his family as corrections officers led him from the courtroom.

Grimes had been arrested 17 times, including twice for handgun possession in the year before the January 2007 killing. But he had been convicted only six times, for nonviolent offenses, and did not spend significant time in prison.

The gun used to kill Chesley, 34, had been seized in a 2001 police raid but was returned to the owner when the case collapsed. Five years later, the owner reported that his son had stolen it, but city police never moved forward on that investigation.

Police do not know how Grimes got the gun, a 9 mm Sig Sauer that investigators found equipped with a laser-targeting device.

Grimes' criminal trajectory highlights two perennial problems at the crux of the Police Department's efforts to curb homicides: locking up gun offenders and reducing robberies.

Four days before Chesley's killing, police say, Grimes carjacked two men, stealing a driver's license and credit card and then dumping the vehicle nearby. The victims called police, but officers did not take a report or investigate.

The allegation was labeled unfounded until Sgt. Richard Purtell began reviewing evidence from the homicide. He found the stolen license and credit card inside a wallet recovered from the getaway van that Grimes used in the Chesley shooting.

In asking yesterday for a sentence of life without parole, prosecutor Kevin Wiggins described Grimes as the "thing that goes 'bump' in the night."

"He's the reason why parents hold their children tighter," Wiggins said.

And he said that if Chesley had not shot Grimes and wounded him in the leg, the case would have turned out like so many others: a "whodunit."

Grimes, both Doory and Wiggins said, has shown no remorse. Doory said the defendant told a "web of lies" on the witness stand on the final day of his trial.

While testifying, Grimes couldn't tell jurors where he was on the night he was wounded, how many shots were fired or where they came from.

Grimes also couldn't explain why, after being shot, he walked into the woods bleeding profusely and passed homes where he could have gotten help. He told medical personnel that he had been robbed.

When Wiggins asked Grimes how he could have been robbed when none of his belongings was missing, Grimes responded: "They [tried to] rob me of my life."

Some jurors snickered. The panel convicted Grimes of first-degree murder in August after deliberating a little more than three hours.

"I've never seen someone in my time in this office earn the sentence the state has requested," Wiggins said yesterday in his argument for life without parole.

Efforts at what Wiggins described as "self-preservation" continued yesterday when Grimes' attorney, Roland Walker, requested a new trial for his client on two grounds: that the evidence presented did not prove that the killing was premeditated and that the DNA evidence was unreliable.

The trial - prominent because it involved the killing of a police officer - coincided with reports by The Baltimore Sun that crime lab workers had contaminated evidence with their own DNA in 12 cases. The contamination was less alarming than the fact that the Police Department laboratory, until last summer, did not have safeguards in place to detect it.

But then, in middle of the trial, lab workers discovered that a mobile crime scene technician had left his DNA on the grip of the pistol used to murder Chesley, marking the 13th instance of contamination.

Doory dismissed Walker's arguments yesterday, concluding that both issues had been fully litigated before the jury. Members reached a guilty verdict with knowledge of the contamination and a full understanding of what was and was not known about Grimes' intentions in the hours before the killing.

Chesley was killed as he tried to unlock the front door of the Forest Park apartment in the 4500 block of Fairfax Road after getting off a late shift. He was wearing plain clothes and had a badge clipped on his hip and keys and a Hawaiian Punch bottle in his hands.

No one has alleged that Grimes knew that Chesley was a police officer when he approached him about 1 a.m. Jan. 9.

And Walker argued that Grimes should be given hope that he would leave prison some day - as an incentive for him to behave and get an education.

Doory told Grimes that he was balancing "hope for you against the fear of you."

"You, Mr. Grimes, have stolen the life of Officer Chesley," the judge said. "You have stolen it from his family, from his friends, from the Police Department and from the citizens of Baltimore, who desperately need him."

Doory said that he was issuing the "penultimate penalty" and that had Chesley been in uniform, "we would be discussing the ultimate penalty."

Wiggins and Joyce Chesley told Doory that the killer and his victim were similar in many respects.

Both attended Baltimore schools; both lacked a traditional upbringing. Chesley was raised by a single mother who worked as a grocery store cashier. Grimes was raised by his grandparents.

"Both were afforded choices," Joyce Chesley said.

She is now raising two of her son's five children, a 14-year-old and 16-year-old, who lost their mother about three years before they lost their father.

Their uncle, Leroy Pinder, said their mother died of natural causes at age 28. Doctors said they thought it was a heart attack but couldn't be sure, Pinder said.

Joyce Chesley has had to come out of retirement and return to her old job to provide for her grandchildren.

"I know that I am taking you away from your family," the judge told Grimes.

"But I am not taking you away from your family the way you took Officer Chesley from his family."

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