- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore man was sentenced yesterday to life in prison without parole after admitting that he set a fire that killed a family, a blaze that investigators said was in retaliation for a mother’s calls to police to report drug dealing.

Before sentencing, Darrell Brooks, 22, apologized and asked for forgiveness from family members in a quaking voice, tears rolling down his face. Brooks said he understood that he had to pay for his actions and felt so bad that he hoped he would die.

“I thought I deserved nothing but death,” he said.

Brooks admitted setting the fire in October that killed Angela and Carnell Dawson and their five children.

He had been charged with seven counts of arson resulting in death, as well as several charges relating to an earlier fire at the Dawson home.

Mrs. Dawson, 36, and the children — Keith and Kevin Dawson, 9; Carnell Dawson Jr., 10; Juan Ortiz, 12; and LaWanda Ortiz, 14 — were killed Oct. 16 when fire roared through their three-story row house.

Mr. Dawson, 43, was burned over 80 percent of his body and jumped out of an upstairs window. He died a week later.

The home had been firebombed almost two weeks before the fatal fire, but the family escaped injury when Mr. Dawson ran downstairs and extinguished a Molotov cocktail thrown through the kitchen window.

The killings underscored the severity of the city’s notoriously violent drug-related criminal activity, alarming residents and prompting state and local officials to take a harder look at the problem.

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, has proposed a bill called the Dawson Family Community Protection Act that would provide more money to help the Baltimore-Washington region hire more police officers.

It also would set up additional anonymous hot lines, fund witness-protection efforts and improve lighting in drug-infested neighborhoods.

Police say 35 calls were made from the Dawsons’ address to emergency dispatchers between June 26 and Oct. 16 last year. Mr. Dawson also had chased drug dealers off his front stoop.

Brooks, who was a neighbor of the Dawsons’, had a long record of arrests involving robbery, assault and drug charges. He was charged with robbing a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint weeks before he set the fatal fire.

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