Two men pleaded guilty Wednesday in the rape and killing of a 16-year-old girl in Northeast Baltimore, while a third juvenile defendant charged as an adult was headed for trial.
The guilty pleas of John Childs, 22, and Adonay Dixon, 25, shed new light on the attack on City College student Arnesha Bowers.
Prosecutors said the crime began as a plot to burglarize Bowers' grandmother's home. But when she discovered the men stealing items, they said, she was struck multiple times in the head with a meat tenderizer, sexually assaulted and strangled.
To cover up the crime, they said, her body and the home were set on fire.
"I've been a prosecutor for 33 years, and it doesn't get any worse," Assistant State's Attorney Sharon Holback told Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill. "It's one of the two worst cases I've ever worked on."
Childs, who through his plea admitted striking Bowers in the head and raping and killing her, was sentenced to life in prison.
Dixon's plea called for him to receive a sentence of life in prison, with all but 50 years suspended. Dixon admitted to directing much of the crime.
A third defendant, 15-year-old Raeshawn Rivers, has pleaded not guilty to murder, rape, arson and gang offenses. Preliminary motions in his trial were to begin Thursday, with opening statements expected next week.
Childs went to police the day after the crime and tried to pin the killing solely on Dixon. He told detectives that Dixon had called him that night and admitted killing Bowers.
But Holback said Wednesday that Rivers' family had attacked Childs and threatened him at gunpoint to pin the crime on Dixon to "protect" Rivers.
Authorities have said that Bowers' killing was a gang initiation, but Holback made no such claim during the guilty pleas. She maintained that Rivers' family was involved in gang activity.
Bowers had been dating Rivers, Holback said. On June 7, 2015, she went to a party at an apartment in the 4900 block of Harford Road, where Rivers lived with Childs.
Bowers' grandmother picked her up from the party before 11 p.m. and took her home. She then left to work an overnight job.
At the party, authorities said, Dixon and the others devised a plan to burglarize Bowers' grandmother's home, using Rivers to lure her upstairs while they grabbed belongings.
Bowers let the three into the home, Holback said, offered them food and talked with them until she went with Rivers for what Holback described as a romantic encounter.
As Dixon and Childs were stealing items, Bowers came downstairs and found them. Dixon grabbed a meat tenderizer from the kitchen and handed it to Childs, who struck her multiple times in the head, Holback said.
"After the first strike, the victim cried and promised she would not tell on him," Holback said. But he struck her twice more, and the men believed Bowers was dead.
She was not, and Childs took her into the basement as Dixon and Rivers went through the belongings in the home, authorities said, filling a black bag with food and items such as an iPad.
Holback said DNA from Childs and Rivers was found on Bowers' body. She had been raped and strangled with a cord from a water heater, Holback said.
Dixon set fire to the upstairs of the home, while Childs set fire to Bowers' body.
"I don't think I'll ever forget those pictures," Holback told Fletcher-Hill.
After trying to pin the crime on Dixon, Childs returned to police headquarters the next day and confessed to his involvement. His attorney, public defender Sean Coleman, said Childs has wanted to plead guilty since his arrest and cannot say Bowers' name out loud. Childs sees her in his sleep and has been monitored for suicide, Coleman said.
Bowers' grandmother, Sandra Bowers, said she "lost a beautiful granddaughter."
Bowers had been applying to colleges. After her death, her grandmother told Fletcher-Hill, emails continued to roll in.
"It ripped my heart to be reminded she'll never have the opportunity to grow into the wonderful young lady I knew she would be," Sandra Bowers said.