D.C. man gets 61-year term for shooting landscaper in face

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010; B03

A District man who told a jury in the fall that he shot a landscaper four times in the face because the worker had gotten grass on him was sentenced to 61 years in prison Thursday by a D.C. Superior Court judge.

As he sentenced Lankward Harrington, 25, Judge Geoffrey M. Alprin said the case was one of the most memorable in his more than 20 years on the bench.

"Usually there is some kind of an explanation for the violence in this city, but no one can explain this one," said Alprin, who oversaw the trial and recently retired from daily court proceedings. "Grass clippings are not a reason for a death sentence."

During his trial in October, Harrington -- against his attorney's advice -- took the stand. He calmly said that on Oct. 16, 2006, he was walking to a store in the 2600 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE when he came upon Jose Villatoro, who was cutting grass. Villatoro, who worked for a landscaping company, was using a line trimmer to edge a lawn.

Harrington told the jury that Villatoro, 35, didn't stop cutting the grass to allow him to pass, as he had for other pedestrians. A few blades of grass blew into Harrington's hair and clothes.

Harrington said he reached into his backpack and pulled out a .357 magnum, shooting Villatoro four times before walking away. Harrington was arrested a short time later and charged with second-degree murder. The jury found him guilty Oct. 6.

At the sentencing hearing, Villatoro's wife, Carmela, and daughters asked Alprin to keep Harrington locked up for a "long time to avoid him hurting someone else." At times, Harrington, who is in protective custody at the D.C. jail after being attacked by other inmates, tilted his head and smiled as the family spoke.

Harrington's parents said their son had serious mental problems. For years before the shooting, they had tried to get him committed to a mental health facility.

In 2002, according to court records, Harrington was arrested and charged with carrying a pistol without a license and was sentenced to three months in prison. As part of his sentence, Judge Ann O'Regan Keary ordered parole officials to ensure that Harrington receive a psychological examination and anger-management counseling.

In September 2006, a month before the shooting, Harrington kicked out the windows of his father's car after an argument. Harrington's mother took him to the D.C. Department of Mental Health's psychiatric emergency program. Harrington told the physicians he had thoughts of killing his father. According to a psychiatrist's report, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Harrington's mother said she wanted the doctors to admit her son to a psychiatric facility. He was released within eight hours after an evaluation. "I begged them to help my son," Andree Harrington said.

Psychiatrist Charles Motsinger, who declined to comment about the Harrington case, said that committing someone against his will "requires a very high threshold." Motsinger said that if patients are released soon after being evaluated, it is because they are not deemed an "imminent threat" to themselves or others.

At the time of his arrest, Harrington told police that he was a "detective" for the United States and that he was hired to kill terrorists. He also said he had smoked PCP the previous night.

But prosecutors said Harrington's behavior was an act. "The whole thing was a fake to evade responsibility," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven B. Snyder.

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