State prosecutors called him “the hit man from Texas.”
After arriving in Maryland on a “business trip” to sell thousands of dollars worth of marijuana, Darrell Lynn Bellard flew into a rage when his cooler full of pot disappeared, prosecutors said. During a failed search for the drugs, Bellard killed two women and two young children, all shot execution-style, in a Lanham apartment.
On Thursday, a Prince George’s County jury found Bellard, 47, guilty on four counts of first-degree murder in the 2010 slayings of 38-year-old Dawn Brooks, 41-year-old Mwasiti Sikyala and Brooks’s son and daughter — Shakur Sikyala, 4, and Shayla Sikyala, 3.
State prosecutors had planned to seek the death penalty in the case, but last year, Maryland legislators banned capital punishment in the state. Bellard faces a maximum sentence of life without parole.
Prince George’s prosecutors painted Bellard as a coldblooded killer willing to shoot children after slaying their mother and aunt. Brooks was found in a pool of blood on the floor, and the bodies of her children and Sikyala were heaped nearby on a bed. Bellard is related to all by marriage.
“He fired that gun at those helpless children,” Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Ruddy told the jury, saying that they called Bellard “Uncle Darrell.”
As state prosecutors detailed how Bellard ordered the 4-year-old to stand on a bed to be shot, several members of the jury began to cry or shake their heads.
Bellard’s trial was extensive, spanning six days with nearly 30 witnesses and more than 200 pieces of evidence. Ruddy and Assistant State’s Attorney Wes Adams relied on cellphone records, the testimony of Bellard’s girlfriend, DNA evidence and a video confession from Bellard to build their case.
Bellard had left a cooler full of marijuana in the bathroom of Brooks’s apartment and went out to run errands. When he returned, Mwasiti Sikyala told him that three masked men had stolen the drugs after ransacking the home. The marijuana was never recovered.
Bellard, dressed in a blue shirt, sat quietly during the trial, flanked by five attorneys. As the judge sent the jury to deliberate, the defendant rested his head on his hands, which were in a prayer position.
Bellard’s lawyer tried to push responsibility for the slayings onto his client’s then-girlfriend, T’keisha Nicole Gilmer, who testified for about three hours last week. Gilmer, who was with Bellard the night of the shootings, has struck a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to murder. She faces 40 years to life in prison.
“What T’keisha tells you in her statement . . . is a version of the events that is completely at odds with the physical evidence collected at the scene,” Bellard’s attorney Bob McGowan said.
Gilmer, 22, testified a week ago that she stood guard during the killings and took photos of the scene at Bellard’s command. In a soft, halting voice, she recounted the nightmarish events of August 2010, describing Bellard’s interrogation of Brooks.
“He was yelling,” Gilmer recalled, “asking if she knew where the drugs were, and if she set him up.” When Brooks didn’t answer, Gilmer said, Bellard grabbed a pillow, held it in front of Mwasiti Sikyala and shot her in the stomach and the chin. Brooks was “pleading to him, ‘No, no, she didn’t have anything to do with it,’ ” Gilmer testified. Bellard shot Brooks twice as well, Gilmer said, killing her. Then he went into the bedroom, she said, and fired three or four shots at the children.
But the boy was still alive.
“ ‘Get . . . up, boy, you’re not dead,’ ” Bellard said, according to Gilmer.
The boy got up and said he needed to urinate, Bellard’s girlfriend recalled.
Gilmer guarded the boy as he used the bathroom. When he came back, Gilmer and prosecutors said, the child obediently stood on the bed while Bellard shot him — twice.
McGowan argued that the placement of bullets found at the scene were inconsistent with Gilmer’s recollection of the shootings. McGowan also said that Gilmer testified that Bellard had fired at least nine shots that night, but only eight bullets were recovered from the scene.
“I call it the phantom shot,” McGowan said. “Where did it go?”
Ruddy, the prosecutor, argued that Bellard and Gilmer had spent time cleaning the scene and dumping evidence. Surveillance video recovered at a motel where Bellard had checked in after the shootings shows him tossing bags into a dumpster in the area. And Brooks’s and Bellard’s DNA were found on a green, bloodstained towel and Bellard’s cellphone.
During closing arguments, state prosecutors played video of Bellard tearfully confessing to police. The detective on the video asked why Bellard shot the children.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Bellard replied as he wept.
While watching the video in court Wednesday, Bellard grabbed a tissue and dabbed at his face.
With the death penalty removed as an option, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said prosecutors will seek life without parole. A sentencing date has not been set.
Alsobrooks said Dawn Brooks’s mother expressed some peace and comfort in knowing that Bellard could spend the rest of his life in prison. But “in a case like this, there is no real victory in it,” she said. “The worst has happened and you can’t reverse it.”
Ben Tela, Mwasiti Sikyala’s common-law husband of 23 years, said he was pleased to see “justice served” with Thursday’s conviction.
“I hope he gets the maximum of whatever is applicable in this case,” Tela said. “This guy took the lives of not one but four people, including two children. He doesn’t deserve to live.”
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.