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.

Witherspoon was 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 hearing.

Circuit Judge 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."

Brown's sentence 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.

Charleston 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."

Brown takes 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.

Solicitor Ralph 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.

 

Witherspoon's family agreed to the plea offer so they would be spared the agony of a trial, Hoisington said.

Defense attorney 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 penalty."

Hoisington told Pieper that Brown was a friend of Witherspoon's family, and his relationship with her bordered on an obsession.

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, she said.

After the 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."

Despite his 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.

Friends said 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 against him.

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http://www.charleston.net/stories/071304/loc_13murder.shtml

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