They sing, pray and worship as always inside St. John Church of God in Northeast Washington — gospel music so good it’s carried live on radio. But for more than a year, the absence of Roosevelt Brockington Jr., deacon, soloist and murder victim, has been impossible not to feel.
“He went beyond the call of duty,” Pastor Sallie A. Bruce told Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Marielsa A. Bernard on Monday, speaking from her wheelchair and saying how Brockington, 40, used to call each morning to check on her. “I miss that 9 o’clock call.”
Moments later, Bernard sentenced Keith Little, 50, to life in prison without the possibility of parole in one of the area’s most brutal killings last year. On New Year’s Day, Little — upset over a poor performance evaluation and a change in hours — sneaked into Brockington’s office in the basement boiler room at Suburban Hospital. He stabbed his boss more than 70 times, leaving a 12-inch knife in his neck.
“This was a man who clearly loved people, who clearly did whatever he could to help,” the judge said of Brockington, adding that she had been moved by what church members and Brockington’s family told her. “This is a man who touched many, many lives.”
Little continued to profess innocence Monday, but Bernard told him she was convinced that the jury’s guilty verdict was correct.
The murder was so savage, and in such an odd location, that media accounts tended to overlook details of who Brockington was. Born in the District, he sometimes tagged along with his father on weekend work shifts — to the boiler rooms where Roosevelt Brockington Sr. worked as an engineer. Roosevelt Jr. picked up the nickname “Peanuckle.”
He went on to study music at Chowan University in North Carolina but soon entered the boiler-room trade. At Suburban Hospital, he befriended co-workers such as Garland Mackey.
“What’s wrong?” Brockington asked one day after seeing Mackey on his knees.
It was a memory Mackey testified about during Little’s trial in December, choking back tears as he did so. Mackey said he told Brockington that he had cancer. Brockington got down on his knees, too.
“He said, ‘Let’s pray together,’ ” Mackey told the jury. “So that’s what we did. We prayed together.”
Brockington held a second boiler-room job, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. The night of Dec. 31, 2010, he raced from Goddard to the New Year’s Eve service at St. John.
Although he’d grown up going to church, family members said Brockington rededicated himself to God several years ago. He helped church members on home-improvement projects, served as a deacon and, during daily 9 a.m. calls, asked his pastor what he could do for her.
After the New Year’s Eve service, he visited with church members for a bit and walked people to their cars until 3:30 a.m. One member wore a long coat, drawing a compliment from Brockington’s mother.
“You want one of those coats, Momma?” he asked, giving the woman cash to buy it and telling her, “Find one in her size.”
That was the last time Mary Brockington saw her son alive.
He drove to Suburban to relieve Little in the boiler room. Detectives concluded that after Brockington started his shift, Little attacked.
“This crime is as outrageous a murder in this county, I submit to you, that we have ever seen,” prosecutor George Simms said in court Monday.
Several years earlier, in the District, Little went on trial in the killing of a co-worker and was acquitted.
The Sunday service at St. John showed a congregation trying to marshal on. Mary Brockington delivered a sermon about faith in hard times. “We need to become good soldiers,” she said. “We need to learn how to endure.”
To her left sat Bruce, who has needed a wheelchair since Jan. 7, 2011, when she was preparing comments for Brockington’s funeral. Bruce knew he had been slain but she didn’t know how — until she heard a radio station report that he had been stabbed more than 70 times. Bruce collapsed and was taken to a hospital; doctors said she had suffered a stroke.
During the Sunday service, Bruce spoke about the hearing to take place the next day.
“We’re putting it in the hands of the Lord,” Bruce said. “He will do what needs to be done.”