BALTIMORE — Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott was just 25, fresh into his career as a community liaison at City Hall and eager to take on the violence-plagued world around him, when that world came knocking in the form of two teenage boys with a gun.
“Kick that s--- out,” one said, demanding Scott hand over his cellphone as he walked home with his dog one September night in 2009.
In a Baltimore courtroom Monday, Scott said the decade-old robbery was a “life-changing” event for him. He’d grown up in Park Heights and had seen shootings and dead bodies before, he said, but this was personal.
“How do we stop this from happening?” he recalled asking himself. “I’ve never stopped thinking about it."
Monday’s hearing in Circuit Court was for a judge to consider whether to modify the armed robbery sentence of Geron Golphin, who was 16 when he took Scott’s phone as a friend held the gun — later described to Scott as a BB gun.
Scott was there to tell the judge he should show leniency — making him the second Baltimore City Council member to show such support for an attacker in recent years. Former City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector became an advocate for two teenage boys who carjacked her in a city parking garage in 2016.
Golphin took a plea deal of 15 years in prison in the case, with 12 years of that time suspended. He’d been released and gotten a job, and gone years under probation without getting into trouble again. Then he caught a cocaine distribution charge in Baltimore County, which violated the terms of his probation. In 2015, 10 years of his initial sentence in the robbery was reimposed, and he’s been in prison since.
On Monday, public defender Rachel Bennett was asking Circuit Judge Robert Taylor to reduce Golphin’s sentence so he could be let out. She said Golphin had a difficult upbringing as one of nine kids in a tough East Baltimore neighborhood, which sent him in the wrong direction at a young age.
But he has learned from his mistakes and has never had an infraction behind bars, she said.
To bolster her case, Bennett had a handful of Golphin’s family members in the courtroom weigh in — including four of his brothers.
“He gives me a lot of good advice,” said Joshua Golphin, 19.
“I work hard every day, and I just want him to get back to working, too," said Brandon Golphin, 25.
“He was the brother who would keep all the other brothers in check, to make sure we were on the right track,” said Tyrique Golphin, 21.
“We are better off together, to get to where we need to go,” said Tobias Golphin, 22.
The brothers’ testimony was compelling, but Scott — as the victim turned advocate — was the star witness.
Scott told Taylor of visiting Golphin, now 26, at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown two weeks ago, and seeing a changed man — one who had gotten his high school diploma behind bars, mentored younger offenders and started studying to become a truck driver.
“I can see the tremendous growth and progress he’s made,” Scott said. “I can see he is sincere ... and most importantly, that he wants to do better.”
Scott said, “We can’t continue as a society to hold young people, children, to the same standards as adults." People like Golphin, arrested as kids, deserve breaks, the councilman said. And he promised Taylor he would connect Golphin with an array of city resources and opportunities whenever he gets out of prison, to ensure he has a better future.
Golphin himself begged Taylor for a “second chance," noting his model behavior behind bars.
“I have too much potential and too much talent to be wasting my life in prison,” he said. “I vow to do better. I have dedicated myself to change.”
Bennett, the public defender, asked Taylor to reduce Golphin’s sentence to time served.
Assistant State’s Attorney LaZette Ringgold-Kirksey, the prosecutor in the case in 2009 and on Monday, said she believes there “need to be consequences for actions,” but also acknowledged the great strides Golphin has made behind bars.
She said in 14 years as a prosecutor, she has recommended a reduced sentence only a handful of times, and this would be one of them. Still, she said, Golphin’s sentence should be reduced only in part, “not completely.”
Taylor noted Golphin had a juvenile record before the robbery, which “wasn’t a bolt from the blue.” But the judge also said he was “mindful of the fact that when you are 16 years old, you do stupid things.”
He said he appreciated Golphin’s commitment to his family, but noted that Golphin also had been “on the street selling the type of poison that breaks up families here in the city.”
Taylor then suspended all of Golphin’s sentence except six years, with three years of supervised probation upon his release.
Taylor estimated that his release “should be imminent." He noted Golphin will have served three years, or half his new sentence, and will be eligible for parole in September, and also has credits for good behavior.
Ringgold-Kirksey agreed. “He should get out soon.”
With the hearing adjourned, Scott stood and shook Golphin’s hand. Then Scott left — running off to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where a police officer was being treated for a gunshot wound.
Golphin’s family was happy in the hallway.
“The family really thanks [Scott] for stepping up, because he didn’t have to do it,” said Katrina Mills, Golphin’s mother.
“I wanted to hug him,” said Shirley Fulwood, Golphin’s grandmother.
Mills said her son has been “instrumental," even from prison, in keeping his eight siblings on the right track, making sure they have jobs and aren’t running the streets. She can’t wait to have him home, she said.
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“Even though I got nine, with one missing, you can feel it,” she said.