William Joseph Parker was sentenced to life imprisionment yesterday by a Prince George's County Circuit Court judge who found that Parker was not subject to the death penalty under the ambiguous wording of Maryland's capital punishment law.
Parker, a 28-year-old transient fireman, was convicted last month of murdering and raping 13-year-old Elizabeth C. Archard of Annapolis last summer. The trial was the first held under Maryland's 10-month-old death penalty statute.
Judge Howard S. Chasanow also sentenced Parker to a 15-year-term for his conviction on a related weapons charge. Under the two consecutive sentences, Parker culd be eligible for parole in 15 1/2 years.
The final decision to give Parker a life sentence, Chasanow said in court yesterday, was based on both "grammar and legislative intent."
Under the Maryland statute, a defendant may face death if he is convicted of murder while committing " . . . rape or a sexual offense in the first degree."
Parker was convicted of murder and second-degree rape. So, after staying up most of the night prior to sentencing poring through old grammar books, Chasanow ruled that, because there was no comma after the word "rape" in the statute, it applied only to first-degree rape.
After telling Parker that he would not face death because he believed that "the legislature's intent was to apply capital punishment only in (murder) cases where first degree rape is the aggravating offense," Chasanow asked him to stand for sentencing.
His soft voice quavering with emotion, the normally low-key judge purged some of his own emotions as Parker, his mother and Archard's family listened.
"Mr. Parker, I have done my very best throughout this trial to stay unemotional and detached," Chasanow began. "But I can't help but be reminded again and again of the crime you committed as I hope you will during the remainder of your sentence.
"You murdered a 13-year-old girl and you murdered her in a horrible manner, pumping five bullets into her. And I can't help but think about the fact that the last experience in her short life was being ravished by you.
"When your attorney hypothisized earlier that one of my motives in sentencing today was not going to be retribution, he was wrong.
"I don't enjoy sentencing but I will get a certain enjoyment out of the sentence I am about to impose on you now. You can be certain that I am going to give you every day I possibly can.
"As for your attorney's motion asking for suspension of a portion of your sentence, I would not consider suspending one hour of your sentence."
With that, Chasanow sentenced Parker to life in prison. During the entire proceeding. Parker stared straight at the judge with his jaw set and his face expressionless.
As Parker was led away by sheriff's deputies his mother Margaret Parker, buried her head in her hands and eried. Phillip D. Hale, Archard's step-father stood up and waved reporters away saying, "nothing, no comment." He then led his wife, Archard's three brothers and her sister out of the courtroom.
Parker's attorney, Fred Warren Bennett, his face filled with relief, emerged from a brief talk with Parker and said, "I'm extremely happy with the judge's ruling. I think he was absolutely correct.
"Joe [Parker] is very relieved. When I walked in just now he pumped my hand several times and thanked me." Chasanow, hearing the last remark, said simply: "He damn well ought to thank you.
"The 3 1/2 hour hearing before the sentencing was filled with the same level of emotion as the one-week trial, which was held in St. Mary's County because of pretrial publicity.
Bennett called Parker and his mother as witnesses. He asked Parker if he felt remorse over his act. "Yes, I do," Parker said. "I'm sorry and everything, you know. I'm kinda nervous, nervous about sentencing."
Then Bennett asked Parker, "do you want to die"
"No, Parker answered, "I don't want to do it,"
For 75 minutes Bennett argued against the death penalty, first on the premise that the wording of the statute excluded Parker, then on the premise that, in any case, the crime didn't warrant it.
"Before this case I was opposed to the death penalty on general terms," Bennett said. "I know for me and perhaps for you, your honor, this case has created an excruciating agony of the spirit. It has brought me to abbor the death penalty. When all is said and done it is completely dehumanizing.
"How can the State of Maryland willfully, deliberately officially and publicly take a man's life. A second wrong will not make this right. We cannot bring Miss Archard back by any action."
Prosecutor Edmond B. O'Connell, as low-key as Bennett was demonstrative, followed him, speaking only briefly. "Your honor, if the state did not think the death penalty was appropriate, we would not be here today seeking it," he began.
"Elizabeth Archard did not have a jury or a judge to go to. She didn't have anybody to say those words to.She couldn't say 'I don't want to die, I'm 13 and I want to got to school and get A's. She couldn't say 'I want to ride my bike and work to earn money and I want to grow up.' Mr. Parker made all those decisions for her.
"He took her into the woods and he shot her five times. He executed her."
After he finished Chasanow returned to his chambers, leaned back in his chair and said, "I'm so glad this is over. I kept waking up last night and making little notes to myself. I couldn't even read them this morning.
"It all started to finally get to me when I started to sentence, I got extremely emotional. Now, I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders."
Among the law books spread out on the judge's desk was one opened to 1946 Missouri case. It read: "courts are reluctant to determine matters of such deep concern as mutual right of children solely upon considerations of punctuation or grammatical construction."
Looking at the case, Chasanow smiled and sighed, saying, "and they wanted me to determine life or death based on a comma." CAPTION: Illustration 1, As William Joseph Parker, standing, and attorney Fred Bennett listen . . . By Joan Andrew for the Washington Post; Illustration 2, . . . Judge Howard S. Chasanow pronounces sentence of life in prison. . . By Joan Andrew for The Washington Post