A 54-year-old Oxon Hill man was sentenced yesterday in D.C. Superior Court to 365 days in jail, to be served on weekends, for the murder of his former girlfriend, prompting an angry outcry from the woman's family.
"Right now, my whole body's shaking. I really feel like taking the law into my own hands," said Aida Hilliard, the woman's sister. "My parents always taught us to respect law and order. What is this system coming to?"
Edward Strother, a systems analyst at the Federal Records Center, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Carol R. Gray and had faced a possible sentence of life in prison. Police charged that he shot Gray, 33, three times in the head at her D.C. home last March while her 80-year-old grandmother watched.
In a highly unusual action, Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I announced last week that he would sentence Strother to 365 days in the D.C. Jail, to be served on weekends, and would require him to pay monthly restitution to Gray's 6-year-old daughter and take out an insurance policy in the child's name.
The sentence was hailed by advocates of alternative sentences as a bold and innovative move by Moultrie, widely regarded as one of the court's hard-nosed judges.
Others saw the sentence as far too lenient.
"It's just a disgrace," said Paul D. Kamenar, executive legal director of the conservative Washington Legal Foundation who appeared in court yesterday.
"We believed that substantial incarceration was appropriate," said U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova. "We had asked for that on two occasions. We've done everything we could so that the family's interests and the victim's interests were brought before the court."
Strother stood quietly before the judge, hands clasped behind his back. Moultrie, who made no statement, refused a request that one of the victim's relatives be allowed to speak before sentencing, and the proceeding was over in moments.
Moultrie in his sentencing order cited studies showing the murder was "out of character" for Strother, who had no prior convictions and, according to one psychiatrist, had been despondent over his breakup with Gray. Moultrie said the studies showed "that it is highly unlikely that this kind of act will be repeated."
Noting that he could have sent Strother to prison, Moultrie said in his order that such a sentence "would in no way benefit [Gray's] child nor bring back the life of the decedent."
Gray's family later gathered in an angry group outside the courtroom.
"Right now, I'm probably as bitter and as angry as I can possibly be," Hilliard said. "I think it's a total injustice. It will take a long time to get the feeling out of our system."
"I think he [Moultrie] has set a dangerous precedent," said a cousin, Ella Gilbert. "As far as I'm concerned, he's given other judges permission to give similar sentences."
Strother whisked by the group on his way out of the courthouse and declined to comment.
"I have no comment, nothing to say," he said.
His attorney, Robert J. Pleshaw, called the sentence "fair under the circumstances. I think it showed a lot of compassion on the part of the judge."
"The judge obviously agonized over it," Pleshaw said. "He fashioned it really to see to it that justice was done."
Under Moultrie's order, Strother must deposit $2,500 into a trust fund for Gray's child, Eyvonne Renee Mallett, and make monthly payments of $100 into the fund for the next 14 years. Strother also must pay $100 monthly to the child's guardian and he must take out an insurance policy of no less than $25,000 with the child as beneficiary.