Woman Gets Life Term in Killing

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 31, 2007

In a decision Montgomery County prosecutors called unprecedented, a judge sentenced a D.C. woman to life in prison without parole yesterday for executing a 16-year-old boy she suspected was telling police about her drug deals.

Circuit Court Judge Nelson W. Rupp Jr. said he wished he could punish defendant Parris D. Pratt's relatives, too. Their neglect, in effect, caused the lives of Pratt and victim Phillip Cunningham to intersect in streets filled with drugs and violence, the judge said.

"What is an outrage about this case is that it is in some respects representative of a community that has abandoned its youth," Rupp said. "It has thrown away its youth and let its youth fend for itself."

Cunningham was living in a group home in the District when he was killed Nov. 17, 2005, in a cul-de-sac in Silver Spring. Pratt was abandoned by her parents as a teenager and made a living selling crack, according to court testimony.

Prosecutors said Pratt is the first woman to be sentenced to life without parole in the county. When Rupp announced his decision, some of Pratt's relatives and supporters began to walk out of the courtroom and others cried. The judge became indignant.

"I'm listening to all of these outbreaks in the courtroom," he said, raising his voice. "Where were you when she was 11 years old? Where were you when she was put out on the streets? Where were you when she had to fend for herself? I'm not going to stand for it. You don't deserve to be in this courtroom expressing that. You leave right now."

Pratt, who testified at trial that she sometimes made thousands of dollars a day selling crack to people desperate enough to prostitute their children, became suspicious that Cunningham was talking to police about her deals, prosecutors said.

The day Cunningham was killed, Pratt drove him from the District to the 9200 block of Manchester Road. She was with Justin Foreman, a friend of Cunningham's. She asked Cunningham to step out of the car, and the two walked up a driveway. Cunningham was holding a beer bottle in one hand and a cigar in the other.

Cunningham knew about Pratt's drug dealing through Foreman and other acquaintances.

Prosecutors said Pratt fired three shots at close range, striking him twice in the head. Pratt, 23, said she shot Cunningham in self-defense after he pulled a knife.

As she drove off, she testified, she saw his legs moving and drove back. She said Foreman then shot him in the head; prosecutors said Pratt fired the last shot.

"She killed this boy because she thought he was a police informer," Assistant State's Attorney Peter A. Feeney said at the hearing. "In certain neighborhoods in the District, that is the penalty for a person who tells the police: This person is doing drugs."

Pratt told Cunningham's relatives yesterday that she was sorry for their loss and that "this whole situation, it got out of hand."

"Unfortunately I have to be the sacrificial lamb for the situation because the state let the murderer walk free," she said. "So here I am. I take responsibility for what I did."

She asked Rupp for a lenient sentence, saying that because the state got a conviction, "I need to get something, too."

Rupp said he was "struck by the total lack of remorse" that Pratt showed at the hearing.

"The community deserves to be safe from you because of who you are and who you've become," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company