A man serving a 50-year sentence for shooting his former girlfriend four times stunned a Fairfax County courtroom and his victim yesterday by admitting he owed her $30 million for injuries that have left her severely crippled.
What was supposed to be the start of a trial of Joy Keo's multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Charles R. Brewer Jr., 23, ended with a dramatic confrontation between the two in a cleared courtroom after Brewer's lawyer conceded that the former J.E.B. Stuart High School cheerleader was due every cent she had demanded.
Keo, now 20 and confined to a wheelchair, had not confronted Brewer since the summer night three years ago when he stormed into the Vienna house where she was staying, fired four shots into her body and said: "You're dead, bitch." Yesterday she stole only quick glances at Brewer, who kept his head down during most of the hearing and only occasionally caught her gaze.
Then, after the jury that had been selected for the case was dismissed, her lawyer, Joseph H. Koonz, asked the presiding judge to "clear the courtroom" so Brewer and Keo could be alone. An observer who looked into the courtroom through a window said Keo was crying as Brewer stroked her hair and kissed her cheek.
"It was important for Mr. Brewer to come to terms with this by being here, to try to get a handle on what he did," said his attorney, Jonathan Shapiro. "That is the reason he even chose to be here today. There really is no issue for trial."
The award, although large, will be only symbolic until Brewer, who will be eligible for parole in about eight years, finishes serving his prison sentence and begins to earn a living. Then lawyers for Keo will be able to secure an order granting her a portion of Brewer's earnings, an order that one of the lawyers said, will probably run for the rest of Brewer's life.
When Brewer was tried in the same court on criminal charges in 1983, prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. said, "It would be hard to imagine a more vicious crime . . . a young, active, vibrant girl cut down in the bloom of her life."
Keo's attorneys, Koonz and Peter C. DePaolis, initially told the Fairfax Circuit Court Judge F. Bruce Bach yesterday they wanted a trial to establish the amount of her damages.
Bach, surprised by Brewer's concession, ordered a recess so he and the attorneys could consult their lawbooks. The judge later agreed there was no need for a trial and said he would enter judgment for $30 million against Brewer.
Koonz said outside the courtroom that Brewer, who had pleaded guilty to four charges resulting from the shooting and said he has suffered from an organic brain injury since infancy, cannot escape liability for the judgment by declaring himself bankrupt.
"It means that there is a $30 million judgment entered against Mr. Brewer Jr.," Koonz said. "It will remain in force for the rest of his life." He said that any money Brewer gives to Keo would come from his future earnings and from any gifts or inheritance he receives.
Keo, who recently was accepted as an undergraduate at the University of California at Los Angeles, seemed to recognize that her award may be more symbolic than real. "If I see it, it will be very important," she said as she left the courthouse in a motorized wheelchair.
"Well, it was over and done with pretty fast," she said. "I'm sort of relieved that after all these years of waiting, it's over. I need that money for all sorts of things . . . attendant care. It all adds up."
She declined to discuss her meeting with Brewer. "I'd rather keep that private," she said.
Keo operated the wheelchair with her left arm, the only limb in which she has some movement. Her attorneys said her unscarred face and smile were deceiving, that she remains in excruciating pain and was strapped to the chair because of uncontrollable muscle spasms.
Keo met Brewer when they were students -- aged 17 and 20 -- at J.E.B. Stuart, a high school near Baileys Crossroads. She was a cheerleader, captain of the soccer team, a pianist and popular; he was a first-string basketball player and voted the "most attractive" boy in the senior class.
According to court testimony in the earlier case, few knew that Brewer, the son of a prominent businessman, had a troubled past. He had been seeing psychologists sporadically since he was 2 1/2 years old and was known to stick his finger in a candle flame as a child and watch it burn, never screaming in pain.
After Brewer began dating Keo, she became bored with her education and they dropped out of school and moved to Florida. There, the relationship began to erode as Brewer became possessive and violent, and Keo returned home.
Despite orders from a Fairfax judge to stay away from Keo, Brewer and a friend showed up at a house in Vienna where Keo was visiting a friend on Aug. 28, 1982. Brewer crashed into the house and fired four shots at Keo. The first bullet severed her spine, and doctors said she would be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of her life.
In January 1983 Brewer pleaded guilty to charges of maliciously wounding, breaking and entering with a deadly weapon, assault and battery and use of a firearm.
Keo's lawsuit initially named Brewer's father, a brother, two psychiatrists, the Dominion Psychiatric Treatment Center, where Brewer had been treated, and Smith and Wesson Inc., makers of the gun that injured her, as defendants along with her former boyfriend. The claims against all the others had been dropped or dismissed by yesterday.
"He's devastated," Shapiro said of his client. "His life, like I told the judge, was ruined. He's . . . remorseful and guilt-ridden. The only reason he was in that courtroom was he felt he had to look at what he'd done."