Judge in stabbing fueled by toilet clog issues tougher sentence

A Germantown man who stabbed a housemate to death in a dispute over a clogged toilet was sentenced to 10 years in state prison Friday as a judge sternly told him why he decided to exceed the punishment recommended under Maryland guidelines.

James Biddinger, 27, stood as Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg shared his reasoning: Biddinger had pursued an argument and brought a knife, he fled the house after the stabbing and failed to call paramedics, he cried “crocodile tears” when detectives disclosed that his housemate was dead, and while awaiting trial he attempted to dissuade some witnesses from testifying and tried to coax others on which details to share.

“Fortunately, you didn’t succeed,” Greenberg said.

Biddinger was convicted in March of voluntary manslaughter in the May 2011 death of Kevin Mbayo, 22, who also stayed at the townhouse where tenants rented rooms. Mbayo was not a tenant but had been staying with his father, who was a tenant.

Tensions between Biddinger and Mbayo had been building in the house. Mbayo’s father said in court Friday that Biddinger felt his son was paying too much attention to Biddinger’s girlfriend. At trial, testimony showed that Biddinger also resented the younger Mbayo’s rent-free living and his lying about on a sofa in the house’s lower level.


James Biddinger, 27, was sentenced to 10 years in state prison Friday. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Police)

On the night of the stabbing, Biddinger had gone downstairs for toilet paper to restock an upper bathroom and was met with an odor and a clogged toilet in the lower bathroom.

In a videotaped statement to police, he said he blamed Mbayo for the problem, setting off the argument that ended in Mbayo’s death.

State sentencing guidelines weigh such factors as the severity of the current crime and any criminal history a defendant may have.

On Friday, Biddinger’s attorneys said that formula would yield a sentence in the range of two to seven years. Prosecutors put the range at between four and nine years.

Biddinger has been jailed since his May 2011 arrest, and that time already served will be credited toward his 10-year sentence. He will become eligible for parole after completing five years.

Mary Pat Flaherty works on investigative and long-range stories. Her work has won numerous national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
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