Evan D. Smyth was carrying a shotgun around in a pillowcase, bragging that he was "a soldier" who had already killed and would kill again, when he asked James A. Brandt to help him rob a drug dealer in Montgomery County last year, according to court testimony yesterday.
Brandt resisted at first but ultimately joined in, police and Brandt's attorney said. They say he drove the getaway car in Wheaton on Sept. 17 after Smyth aimed a shotgun at Tristan Offiah, 21, pulled the trigger and stole Offiah's drugs.
When Brandt and Smyth arrived at Smyth's basement bedroom in Silver Spring that night, Brandt saw blood and tissue covering the walls and floor. Before killing Offiah that day, Smyth had slain two others, and he would kill a fourth person later that week, before finally being arrested.
Brandt, 27, was sentenced yesterday to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty in Offiah's slaying. At his hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court, more details emerged about the killing rampage carried out in September by Smyth, 40, who pleaded guilty to four slayings and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
Brandt told acquaintances about what he had seen in the basement, and word reached police, according to Brandt's attorney. Brandt pleaded guilty in February to second-degree murder and armed robbery in Offiah's death.
Brandt "almost became a murder victim himself," his attorney, Rene Sandler, said in court yesterday. "There was absolutely no intent to kill on the part of [Brandt]. . . . He foolishly went along with a robbery."
Because Smyth had been bragging about the killings and had pressured Brandt into participating in the robbery, Brandt "had every reason to believe that [another murder] very well could happen," Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree said in an interview. "And yet he still went along willingly, and shared in the proceeds."
Brandt and Smyth stole crack cocaine from Offiah and smoked it together, authorities said. Brandt was described in court by a psychologist yesterday as having "poor judgment and rigid thinking" and as a cocaine addict who was easy to persuade.
Brandt was convicted of distributing cocaine in 1996 and possession of cocaine in 1998. Family members and friends had urged him repeatedly to stay clean, Sandler said.
"Had Jimmy Brandt been a stronger person . . . had he been a smarter person, he may have listened," Sandler said.
Smyth pleaded guilty April 29 to four charges of first-degree murder in the slayings of Offiah; Shauntise Monique Gill, 17; Kay Carey, 42, his girlfriend; and Phillip Walker, 20. The bodies all were found in Montgomery in a 36-hour period while Hurricane Isabel pummeled the region.
Brandt drove Smyth's Ford Taurus from the scene after Offiah's slaying, authorities said. As Smyth shouted at Brandt to drive faster, the Taurus's bumper scraped Offiah's Ford Crown Victoria, leaving a streak of dark paint that helped police to trace the killing back to Smyth, authorities said.
When Brandt and Smyth arrived at the basement bedroom, Smyth ordered Brandt to tie himself up with duct tape and lie on the floor. Smyth pointed the shotgun at Brandt, according to court documents and testimony, but eventually untied him. When Smyth stepped out of the room, Brandt escaped, running four miles back to his Wheaton apartment.