Advertisement
Crime

Baltimore prosecutors propose longer prison sentence for arsonist whose case became political flash point in State’s Attorney’s race

A house in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood still shows signs of damage Feb. 17, roughly nine months after a man set it ablaze with his ex-girlfriend and two other people inside. The arson and attempted murder case of Luther Moody Trent has become a political flashpoint in the race for Baltimore state’s attorney, with his originally lenient plea deal stirring up criticism for the office of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

Two months after he walked free with a controversial plea deal, a Baltimore arsonist who set his ex-girlfriend’s house ablaze with her and two other people inside is back behind bars and considering a new offer that would see him serve more than 20 years in prison.

Baltimore prosecutors returned to court Friday with a revised plea offer for Luther Moody Trent, 21, whose release from jail in December after six months in an attempted murder and arson case stirred up criticism of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and became a political flash point in the race for her office.

Advertisement

In court, Trent asked for more time to consider the offer: Effectively 40 years in prison with all but 22 years suspended for the three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson. The offer also included five years of supervised probation, mental health screening and a referral to a domestic violence program, Assistant State’s Attorney Michele Lambert said.

Lambert and Trent’s lawyer, Alan Rombro, told Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn that they are hopeful to reach an agreement in the coming weeks and to return to court to resolve the case.

Advertisement

“There’s a very small likelihood of a trial, your honor. I can’t imagine a scenario,” Rombro said.

Trent stormed out of the room at the detention center from which he appeared via video. Rombro said he was concerned Trent wasn’t getting all his medications in jail. Trent eventually returned and apologized to Phinn for his “emotional outburst.”

Thiru Vignarajah, an attorney for the three victims, expressed gratitude after the hearing Friday for the revised plea offer. He lauded the victims for speaking out against the offer that saw Trent walk free in December, a disposition that Vignarajah argued neglected to consider the impact his actions had on their lives.

“Twenty-two years in prison, not 150 days, is far more in line with the violent crime Mr. Trent committed,” Vignarajah told The Baltimore Sun. “Where we are today would not have been possible without the courage of the victims to stand up for themselves but also for all victims whose voices need to be heard as part of these plea deals.”

Trent admitted as part of his earlier plea to showing up to his ex-girlfriend’s home in the 1900 block of Linden Ave. in the middle of the night May 21 and setting it ablaze. The woman and two other victims escaped as the flames spread. The fire burned through the back deck of the Bolton Hill home and caused an estimated $40,000 in damage.

A Baltimore grand jury handed up an indictment against Trent in July, charging him with attempted murder, arson and reckless endangerment.

Prosecutors offered him a plea of less than six months of time served on one count of arson, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. The prosecutor at the time said the case relied on circumstantial evidence. Before hearing input from the victims, Phinn accepted the plea agreement, which bound her to the sentence agreed upon by the attorneys.

A house in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood still shows signs of damage Feb. 17, roughly nine months after a man set it ablaze with his ex-girlfriend and two other people inside. The arson and attempted murder case of Luther Moody Trent has become a political flashpoint in the race for Baltimore state’s attorney, with his originally lenient plea deal stirring up criticism for the office of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

Roya Hanna, a defense attorney who’s running for state’s attorney, was waiting for her client’s case to be called in reception court and heard Trent’s case play out. She called a press conference to bring attention to the disposition, seizing the opportunity to criticize Mosby’s office. Another defense attorney challenging Mosby, Ivan Bates, called his own press conference to address the case.

Advertisement

As the news media documented outrage over what was described as a lenient plea, Trent appeared on Fox 45 and said he shouldn’t have gotten the deal.

Vignarajah, who previously ran against Mosby, stepped in to represent the victims. He argued that under the Court of Special Appeals case, Antoine v. State, Phinn erred by accepting the binding plea without hearing victim impact statements. The judge acknowledged her mistake and threw out his plea agreement, remanding him to custody.

Two of the victims spoke at the Feb. 3 hearing where Phinn vacated Trent’s plea, describing pervasive trauma, fear of retaliation and a long road toward regaining a sense of safety.

Breaking News Alerts

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Be informed of breaking news as it happens and notified about other don't-miss content with our free news alerts.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives filed a federal criminal complaint against Trent the same day. The document charged Trent with malicious destruction of property used in and affecting interstate commerce by fire, an offense that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

Rombro has raised concerns that his client is getting treated unfairly because of the politicization of the case.

It’s unclear how the new plea offer from city prosecutors will impact the federal case.

Advertisement

Marcy Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the federal charges stand and declined to comment further, citing the pending case.

But Vignarajah told reporters Thursday that the victims had “constructive conversations” with city and federal prosecutors, where they made clear how they thought the case should be resolved. He said the victims hope for concurrent federal and state sentences with Trent serving his time in the federal system so he has access to more robust resources.

Vignarajah spoke outside the Bolton Hill home Trent set fire to. A blue tarp covering the roof flapped in the wind. Plywood boards covered most of the windows. All that remained of the porch was a pile of soot and a scorched post.

“Frankly, a global resolution of the federal and state charges would be the most efficient and fair resolution,” Vignarajah said after the hearing Friday. “We remain hopeful that justice will be served in the days to come.”


Advertisement