Killer adoptive mom sentenced to life without parole

Renee Bowman was sentenced to life without parole.
Renee Bowman was sentenced to life without parole. (Ann Heisenfelt/associated Press)
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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Renee Bowman, who was convicted last month of killing two of her adopted daughters and stuffing their bodies into a freezer, was sentenced Monday to spend the rest of her life in prison by a judge who called the case the most horrific he'd seen in his 25-year career in Montgomery County.

"Ms. Bowman, you had the opportunity to do something good in this world, something special, particularly as an adoptive parent," Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Michael Algeo told her. " . . . Instead, you tortured, brutalized and killed them."

Bowman, 44, adopted the first of three children in 2001 after D.C.'s child welfare agency recommended her as a suitable, adoptive parent. She beat and maimed all three girls, even as she was given a stipend for their care. She forced them to stay in a locked bedroom, to use a bucket as a toilet, and at times fed them only cat food.

The youngest girl, now 9, escaped Bowman's house in 2008 and appears to be flourishing with foster parents in Calvert County. But her fate has suddenly become less clear: Social service workers removed her from her foster parents' house last month for unknown reasons, it was revealed at Monday's hearing.

"We remain very concerned for the welfare of our surviving child and making sure that she winds up in a loving and nurturing home," Montgomery County State Attorney John McCarthy said in court.

He and others who had met the girl's foster parents said they were impressed. Laura Martin, Calvert's state's attorney, who had prosecuted Bowman in a separate trial, said she had visited the foster parents while they had the girl and was pleased with what she saw.

"From what I observed, they were wonderful with the child," Martin said. "And the child responded well to that and returned the same love and affection."

In one of the most touching moments in Bowman's trial, the girl testified but spoke so softly that prosecutors had to ask her to use the same clear voice she would in talking with her foster mother. "Hi, Mommy!" she exclaimed, waving at the mother.

Brenda Donald, secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Services, which is supervising the child's foster care, declined to say why the child was moved, citing the privacy of the child. Donald said the girl is now with a "very loving and supportive family" in Calvert, who have known the child since at least last year and are part of a team of people, including social workers and clinicians, looking out for her best interest.

The former foster parents could not be reached, and in the past they have declined to speak, citing the privacy of the child as well.

At Monday's sentencing hearing, Bowman's attorney, Alan Drew, told Algeo that his client had abused the three girls but didn't kill any of them. He suggested that one of the two dead girls, who would have been 11 and 12 now, had succumbed to malnutrition. "We still contend that Ms. Bowman is not a murderer," Drew said.

Bowman also spoke, for about 25 seconds.

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