(UPDATE 2:23 p.m.)—A young Bel Air man was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday for the 2011 murder of his blind neighbor.
, now 18, of the 200 block of Fairwood Road in Bel Air, , in connection with the stabbing death of Patrick Xavier Ward. Graham was 17 at the time of the murder, on Aug. 5, 2011.
Graham stabbed Ward, age 29, multiple times while they were inside Ward's apartment in the 900 block of Redfield Road in Bel Air.
Police arrested Graham a few blocks away, near his own home on Fairwood Road, .
State prosecutor H. Scott Lewis characterized the case as a burglary turned deadly, and explained that Graham had broken into the apartment to steal a gun.
After reviewing the facts of the case and information submitted by both the defense and prosecution, Judge William Carr said there was only one appropriate sentence: life in prison.
"I agree with Mr. Lewis that this was a senseless crime," Carr said.
Lewis and Carr were not the only ones who felt the crime was senseless.
In front of a crowded courtroom, Ward’s parents, Kathleen and William Ward, spoke about their son and how his loss has impacted them.
“There was no reason to rob from him because he would give it to you freely,” William Ward said.
William Ward said he’d never expected his son, who had struggled with medical conditions his entire life, to die in such a “violent and callous way.”
Instead, he had hoped his son would grow old, have a family and breathe his last surrounded by loved ones. He said the life Patrick Ward fought so hard for would never be his now.
The father said his son was born with a severe case of eczema that caused “constant torment.” Patrick Ward developed vision problems from the condition and underwent a series of surgeries. At the age of 22, the younger Ward’s retinas detached and he became completely blind, the father said.
“He just always tried his best, despite his shortcomings,” William Ward said.
Ward characterized his son as brave and said his murder left a permanent mark.
“There will be an empty space inside me,” William Ward said.
Kathleen Ward said her son was the hub of their family and was always in the know.
“We have never returned to our daily routine because he was a part of that,” Kathleen Ward said.
She said Patrick Ward cared for his family and called them all regularly.
“He’s gone and I can never get him back,” she said.
William Ward expressed the same loss saying he envies Donnell’s mother because her son lives while he can never see his child again.
William Ward said it was not for him to ask for an eye for an eye but asked for some period of incarceration for Donnell Graham.
Samuel Delgado, Graham’s lawyer, also acknowledged that the events of August 5, 2011 were tragic.
“It’s terrible and there’s no excuse for it,” Delgado said.
Delgado confessed that he thought his client would fit his preconceptions, formed by 200 homicide cases, of a young man from an urban area who killed someone with no remorse, but he said he learned otherwise.
“I found out the truth about Donnell Graham and I also found out about Patrick Ward who was no doubt a great man,” Delgado said.
Delgado said Graham took responsibility for his actions by confessing to police and later pleading guilty to first-degree murder.
Delgado went on to read letters written by Graham to Judge Carr, Ward’s family and even the victim himself.
“Since that day I’ve cried every day and called Patrick’s name hoping he would forgive me,” Delgado said, reading Graham’s words aloud.
The letter went on to outline Graham’s depression and suicide attempts since that August night.
“To my victim I deeply and sincerely apologize for what I did, I don’t know what I was thinking that day,” Delgado read from a letter to Patrick Ward. “I feel like killing myself would be the best way to repay.”
Graham also expressed remorse to the Ward family in writing.
“I don’t know what else to say except you don’t deserve this,” Delgado said, reading from the letter addressed to the family.
Delgado concluded he was wrong about his client.
“I was wrong about my suppositions,” Delgado said. “I found instead a young man, a child himself, who does feel pain.”
Delgado asked the court to impose a life sentence with some time suspended to allow Graham another chance at life.
Lewis argued Graham already had second and third chances. He cited Graham’s “extensive juvenile record,” including previous charges of first-, third- and fourth-degree burglary for which he spent time in juvenile detention facilities.
While in custody Graham was offered medications which he refused. Lewis said that action demonstrated Graham was not inclined to change.
The August 2011 break-in and subsequent murder of Patrick Ward took place not long after he had been released from juvenile detention, Lewis said.
“Where does Patrick Ward get that second chance? He doesn’t,” Lewis said.
Lewis asked Graham be sentenced to life in jail and ordered to pay $16,000 restitution to the family for funeral costs.
Carr imposed a life sentence, but no order for restitution.