- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

BALTIMORE — A Baltimore drug dealer who used a cell phone to orchestrate the death of a witness from the city jail was sentenced Monday to life without parole after a federal jury failed to agree on whether he should receive the death penalty.

Patrick A. Byers Jr., 24, was convicted last month in the slaying of Carl S. Lackl Jr., who had identified Byers as the gunman in a previous killing. Mr. Lackl, a 38-year-old single father, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting outside his home in July 2007, a week before Byers was scheduled for trial.

Mr. Lackl had planned to testify against Byers despite warnings from his family that his life was in danger.

The Byers trial has been cited by authorities across the country who want to jam cell-hone signals in prisons and jails to prevent inmates from committing further crimes.

Speaking through tears after the sentencing, Marge Shipley, Mr. Lackl’s mother, said, “I hope people would never feel that they shouldn’t do the right thing, because he did the right thing. He should have never died that way. That was a terrible way to die.”

U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Byers to four consecutive life terms and two concurrent life terms without the possibility of parole. All 12 jurors must agree on a death sentence in federal capital cases.

Jurors deliberated for about three hours over two days before concluding they could not reach a unanimous decision.

Ms. Shipley said her family was satisfied with the jury’s work. “The jury was very strong. I felt like they did their best,” she said.

About two dozen of Byers’ relatives and supporters wept, embraced each other and offered prayers of thanks after the sentence was announced. Mr. Lackl’s family also wept.

Judge Bennett granted Byers 15 minutes to say goodbye to his grandmother, Edna Booze, who raised him and testified on his behalf during the trial. She declined to comment as she left the courthouse.

Afterward, Byers was to be transported to a federal prison outside the state, and he will never return to Baltimore or Maryland, Judge Bennett said.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said the conviction and sentence sent a message that authorities would pursue the strongest possible punishment for those who kill witnesses.

“Carl Lackl was a hero,” Mr. Rosenstein said. “He knelt to comfort a dying man, he called police to report a murder, and he stepped forward to protect other citizens from a violent, armed criminal.”

Mr. Rosenstein said Byers was unlikely to get hold of another cell phone in a maximum-security federal prison, where “extraordinary measures” are taken to cut off inmates from the outside world.

Byers’ attorney, William B. Purpura Jr., cited his client’s low intelligence and unstable upbringing as reasons not to sentence him to death. Byers’ mother is a heroin addict, and his father spent much of the younger Byers’ childhood in federal prison.

Mr. Purpura said he was relieved by the verdict. “This is the best type of closure you can have in any capital case,” he said. “Life without parole is a very substantial punishment.”

Eight people were convicted of taking part in Mr. Lackl’s slaying, including Frank K. Goodman, described by prosecutors as Byers’ chief contact outside jail. Goodman paid $2,300 to Marcus A. Pearson, a member of the Bloods gang, to kill Mr. Lackl, and Pearson found a teenager, Johnathan R. Cornish, who was willing to commit the murder for free to improve his standing in the Bloods.

Pearson and Cornish both pleaded guilty and testified against Byers. Goodman faces life in prison when he is sentenced in July. Four others pleaded guilty to various roles in the scheme.

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