Gary Wellford Brown, 16, told a Prince George's County jury yesterday that he killed 6-year-old Angela Spriggs of Landover last January, and he suggested that drugs were to blame for his action.
Testifying in his own defense in a murder trial in Prince George's County District Court, Brown said he smoked several joints of PCP-treated marijuana just before he placed a green plastic garbage bag over Angela's head and tied it around her neck. She died of suffocation, medical examiners testified.
Brown suggested the drugs were to blame. "It made me feel strong," Brown testified, referring to the joints he smoked. Brown, who is short and slender, spoke in a deep, unsteady voice. He is a ninth-grade dropout from Walker Mill Junior High School and a former friend of the Spriggs family.
During about an hour of testimony yesterday, Brown said he tied the garbage bag around the girl's head and tied her hands together because they were playing hide and seek and he did not want her to find him.
"There was this bag on the ground," he testified. "I put the bag over Angie's head and went into the woods. I remember coming back and seeing Angie on the ground. I flipped out, I got panicky, so I took this board and put it over her and ran."
The murder case is expected to go to the jury today. Prosecutors are seeking a first-degree murder conviction; Brown pleaded not guilty to that charge. His attorneys have argued that the charge be reduced to manslaughter, which carries a lesser sentence.
Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Orenstein told the jury in his opening statement last week that Brown killed Angela Spriggs with premeditation. But defense attorney David Deacon told the jury that if Brown is responsible for Angela's death, the death occurred by accident, while the two were playing a game. He said Brown and Angela frequently played games like cowboys and Indians, and that Brown's judgment was impaired on the day of her death because of the drugs he had used.
The girl's parents and brothers testified last week about the events leading to her disappearance on Jan. 22 and Brown's arrest the following day.
Police began questioning Brown immediately after her parents reported her missing. At first, Brown told police that he had left Angela by a nearby pool, Detective Leonard Feldman testified. Later, he said he had left her by a nearby field, according to Detective Frank Gale.
The day after the killing, Brown told police that he had suffocated Angela, according to homicide Detective John San Felice, who read in court Brown's statement to police.
The statement contained one major discrepancy. In the beginning of the statement, Brown wrote that he tied the bag around Angela's head and a rope around her hands because "I was only playing with Angie. I did not mean to hurt her." But later in the statement, when he was asked "you did intend to murder Angie all along, didn't you?" he said "yes," according to San Felice's testimony.
"'What made you want to kill Angie?' " Brown was asked, according to the police statement that was read by San Felice. Brown's reply, according to San Felice, was "I don't know."
In August, months after Brown was charged with murder, he wrote a letter to the Spriggs family apologizing for Angela's death, according to Ada Spriggs' testimony.
Brown's statement to police also contained an apology, according to court testimony. "I am very sorry for doing this," he wrote. "Angie was like a sister to me and I am deeply sorry for this."