Life in prison
Handyman pleads guilty in Tradd
Street killing in bid to avoid death penalty
BY HERB FRAZIER
A judge sentenced an emotionally
troubled handyman Monday to life in prison without
parole for strangling a popular French teacher in
November in her home.
To avoid a death
penalty trial, Edmonds Tennent Brown IV accepted a
prosecution offer to plead guilty to killing
53-year-old Mary Lynn Witherspoon, a woman who had
dated his father.
found dead in her bathtub at her Tradd Street home
on Nov. 14, after she did not report to work at
her Charles-towne Academy classroom.
Brown had a
fixation for Witherspoon because "she represented
something he liked and wanted," Columbia
psychiatrist Harold Morgan said after Monday's
Danny Pieper said the life sentence was fair, but
the death penalty also would have been appropriate
for Brown, who broke into Witherspoon's home and
struggled with her at the front door before
killing her and fleeing in her car.
Before he was
sentenced, Brown, 33, repeatedly tried to express
his feelings, but, too ove.orge emotionally, he
sobbed, bowed his head toward his shackled feet
and faintly said: "I am extremely sorry."
also includes a concurrent life sentence for
first-degree burglary and a five-year sentence for
possession of a stolen motor vehicle. He also
received a 10-year sentence for an unrelated
charge of third-degree burglary.
attorney Stanley Feldman, speaking for
Witherspoon's family, told the judge that
Witherspoon was a woman with traits of a saint.
"She was an
unusually decent person. Her gifts were felt
throughout the.orgmunity," the attorney said. "The
fact that the defendant will never see the light
of day is nothing to celebrate."
medications for bipolar disorder. He also suffers
from a rare brain disorder called Asperger's
Syndrome, which prevents him from understanding
the social significance of his words and behavior,
psychiatrist Morgan told the judge.
Violence was not
a normal part of Brown's behavior, Morgan said in
an interview. Researchers don't understand how
Asperger's Syndrome and a bipolar disorder .orge
together to lead to violence. This is out of
character for him," he said.
Hoisington said given Brown's mental condition, a
jury would likely have r.orgmended a life sentence
instead of death by lethal injection.
"There are a
number of people in the world who have mental
conditions, but they do not.orgmit horrible
murders," the solicitor said. The mental state of
a defendant "is a major factor for jurors in
determining the appropriate punishment," he said.
family agreed to the plea offer so they would be
spared the agony of a trial, Hoisington said.
Jennifer Kneece Shealy said, "While it is
extremely difficult to watch a young man receive a
life sentence, in this case, I think it was the
appropriate result since he was facing the death
Pieper that Brown was a friend of Witherspoon's
family, and his relationship with her bordered on
Shealy said that
when Brown was a boy, his family tried to get him
psychological help after teachers described him as
a sweet child who was always sad. In later years,
his unusual behavior repelled most people, but he
was lured to people who teased and picked on him,
hearing, Brown's father, Edmonds Tennent Brown
III, said in a prepared statement: "My family and
I extend the greatest sympathy to the Witherspoon
family and recognize what a tragedy they have
experienced. Regarding my son, I wish my attempt
during his childhood to discover what his problems
were had resulted in an appropriate diagnosis."
emotional problems, Brown had been ruled.orgpetent
to stand trial.
Brown, who had
previous burglary convictions, killed Witherspoon
four days after he was released from the county
jail. He had been ordered to seek mental health
treatment after pleading guilty to breaking into
Witherspoon's laundry room in June 2003 and
stealing her clothes.
Witherspoon had dated Brown's father several years
earlier. She told them she lived in fear of the
younger Brown and had filed stalking.orgplaints