A Texas man found guilty in the 2010 slayings of two women and two children in Prince George’s County was sentenced Friday to multiple life terms without the possibility of parole — the maximum punishment possible after Maryland lawmakers recently banned capital punishment.
Darrell Lynn Bellard, 47, was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and several related charges in April. State prosecutors say that Bellard, with help from his girlfriend, killed 38-year-old Dawn Brooks; her 41-year-old sister, Mwasiti Sikyala; and Brooks’s son and daughter — Shakur Sikyala, 4, and Shayla Sikyala, 3. All were found shot execution-style in Brooks’s apartment in Lanham after drugs Bellard transported from Texas went missing.
A tearful Bellard spoke for nearly 15 minutes during his sentencing hearing in Circuit Court, asserting that he was not responsible for the killings. He said he falsely confessed to police because he was trying to protect his girlfriend, T’keisha Nicole Gilmer, whom he believed police would release after a confession.
“I only confessed because I love T’keisha so much,” Bellard said after expressing sympathy to the victims’ family members. “There’s no way I could take the lives of two innocent kids and two mothers.”
State prosecutors and the judge, however, were not convinced.
“I don’t know how executing four people shows an ability or desire to be loved,” Assistant State’s Attorney Wes Adams said after the hearing.
Authorities believe that Bellard flew into a rage after a cooler full of marijuana he had planned to sell in Maryland disappeared from Brooks’s apartment. He began interrogating Brooks before shooting her, her sister and the children. Police arrived to a grisly scene, finding Brooks on the living room floor and her children on a bed in the next room with their aunt.
Judge Dwight D. Jackson made a quick decision on Bellard’s sentencing, saying that Bellard committed “mass murder.” He sentenced Bellard to four consecutive terms of life without parole, three more life sentences and an additional 80 years in prison.
Bellard might have been the first Maryland inmate to face the death penalty in more than a decade, but state lawmakers abolished capital punishment last year.
“I can only do what the law gives me,” said Jackson, who noted the “irony” of Bellard’s sentencing. Since Bellard’s arrest 31 / 2 years ago, Jackson said, 161 people have been executed in the United States. Of those, 53 were killed in Texas, where Bellard lived.
Family members of the victims said they wished that Bellard could have faced the death penalty.
“Life in prison is not enough,” said Nyunzi Sikyala, Brooks’s fiance and the father of the two children.
Bellard’s attorneys called his mother and a psychiatric social worker to testify on his behalf, hoping to soften his sentence. His mother said he was a good son who had an absent father and suffered racism as a black child in a mostly white Texas town.
Psychiatrist Pamela Taylor, who spent more than 200 hours interviewing Bellard, said he suffers from depression and was “brutally raped” when he was 12. Taylor said Bellard turned to selling drugs because a severe disability left him unable to provide for his family.
During the hearing, Bellard jumped out of his seat and lashed out at the assistant state’s attorney. Bellard’s mother was on the stand, and Adams had asked her if she knew that Bellard had solicited Gilmer for sex even though she was a minor. Bellard stood up and screamed: “I’m sick of that lie!”
His mother urged him to sit down as deputies surrounded him.
Bellard’s trial in April was particularly emotional. Relatives of the victims and some members of the jury cried or shook their heads as witnesses detailed how Bellard ordered Shakur to stand on a bed to be shot. The boy complied, and Bellard shot him twice.
“My family had a right to watch these children grow up,” said Melodie Monroe, Brooks’s niece. The children loved to dress up and pretend they were Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars.”
Gilmer testified against Bellard at the trial, saying he ordered her to block the door while he shot everyone in the apartment. Gilmer, 22, has pleaded guilty to murder as part of a deal with prosecutors and faces 40 years to life in prison.
Catherine Brooks Sheldon, Dawn Brooks’s mother, said Shayla would have turned 7 Saturday. Sheldon said she and other loved ones plan to visit the girl’s grave site this weekend with a message for her and the rest of her family: “Justice was served for you.”
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