Trone Tyrone Ashford was sentenced yesterday to two terms of life in prison without parole, plus 50 years, for the shotgun murders of two Indian immigrant employees of a Dunkin' Donuts shop in Camp Springs during a robbery last October.
Ashford, who had faced the death penalty, showed no emotion as Circuit Court Judge E. Allen Shepherd ordered that the sentences be served consecutively. The judge effectively followed the sentencing recommendation of the jury, which deliberated 21 hours over four days.
One juror said afterward that the panel didn't want to sentence Ashford to death in part because the 27-year-old Temple Hills resident is married and has two young children. "We just felt that in this case, though [Ashford] was wrong, two wrongs didn't make a right," said Fernando Witcher, 34, of Forestville.
So far, two of the three suspects in the murders have been convicted. Alicia M. Holloway, 17, pleaded guilty June 4 to two counts of felony murder and testified against Ashford. She faces a maximum of 20 years in prison when she is sentenced Oct. 14. The other co-defendant, John Lemon Epps IV, 20, is awaiting trial.
"We're very pleased with the outcome," said Assistant State's Attorney John Maloney. "Mr. Ashford deserves to be in prison for the rest of his life," added Assistant State's Attorney Tara Harrison, who prosecuted the case with Maloney.
Michael S. Blumenthal, Ashford's attorney, said his client was upbeat, despite the life sentences. "He's relieved the sentence wasn't death," Blumenthal said.
Ashford's sentencing followed a nine-day trial in which he argued he was not the trigger man who killed Mukesh Patel, 35, and Kanu Patel, 28, during a robbery Oct. 15. A third Dunkin' Donuts employee, Ashvin Patel, 44, was seriously wounded but survived, rescued by firefighters who arrived to put out a blaze set by the killers. The Patels were not related.
The jury of seven men and five women convicted Ashford of two counts of first-degree felony murder, acquitting him of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder. He also was convicted of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit robbery. Shepherd, in addition to sentencing Ashford to two life sentences plus 50 years, also ordered the defendant to pay court costs for the trial, which lasted 15 days.
During his trial, Ashford testified that he had been drinking heavily and smoking marijuana in the hours before the slayings. Ashford testified that he went into the shop intending to buy doughnuts and was surprised and frightened when Epps pulled out Ashford's shotgun and announced a robbery, and told Holloway to take money from the cash register.
Ashford testified that he then cowered in a bathroom as Epps took the victims into a back room. Ashford said he heard a series of shots while he was in the bathroom.
Although some jurors initially questioned whether Ashford was the shooter, everyone ultimately agreed that prosecutors had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the killer, said Witcher, the juror.
"It was pretty clear-cut the prosecution had a strong case," Witcher said. "It was clear-cut that [Ashford] was in charge that whole night."
Ashford's statements to police shortly after the slayings were strong evidence of his guilt, Witcher said. In those statements, Ashford initially said he knew nothing about the murders, then said he was at the doughnut shop but didn't shoot anybody, then said he shot one of the victims accidentally, and eventually admitted he shot all the victims.
Ashford testified that he signed the statement admitting to the murders because detectives would not give him his medication for his severely arthritic back and wore him down over 13 hours of questioning.
"When you're innocent from the beginning, you don't let anyone persuade you from telling the truth," Witcher said.