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Inmate killers sentenced to life

February 02, 2001

Inmate killers sentenced to life



By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer


The sentence was life - no portion suspended - for two former Maryland Correctional Training Center inmates who were convicted Thursday of first-degree felony murder in the 1999 strangulation death of another prisoner.

Neither Melvin Curtis Rust nor Howard Berryman Jr. spoke at Friday's sentencing hearing in Washington County Circuit Court, one day after a jury returned guilty verdicts.

Ruling out life without parole Thursday, Wright said by law the two men won't be eligible for their first parole hearing until after serving 15 years, dating from Jan. 2, 1999 - the date of the murder of Lawson Noel.

Berryman was to have been released next Tuesday, having satisfied a six-year sentence for robbery and theft.

"Howard's father has been in prison since my client was 11 years old," said Carl Creeden, who served as Berryman's co-counsel with Eric Reed during the trial. A history of juvenile crimes and problems in school punctuated the life of the 24-year-old Baltimore native.

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"Mr. Rust has never known or seen his father," said his attorney, Tom Sinton. Sentenced in 1996 for attempted murder and a handgun violation, Rust, 23, also of Baltimore, has a six-year-old daughter.

The jury, which deliberated just over six hours at the end of the three-day trial, also found the two men guilty of robbery (10-year maximum), first-degree assault (25-year maximum) and felony theft (15-year maximum).

Friday Wright imposed no further sentences in those convictions, merging them with the murder sentence.

Ruth Noel, mother of the victim, declined to speak after the sentencing.

Both men are now incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore although they have been temporarily housed at the Maryland Correctional Institution during the trial.

Noel was found on his bunk by his cellmate on the morning of his death. A belt was around his neck and hooked over a rod on the bottom of the top bunk. His feet were bound.

Deon Coates, 19, testified Tuesday he was Noel's cellmate in 1999 and that he warned him about the expensive clothing he got from home and wore around the prison.

He said he was approached by the two defendants who wanted him to help them rob Noel of his clothes.

The prosecution contends it was during breakfast time on Jan. 2, 1999, that Noel was robbed of his designer clothing and shoes and then strangled by Rust and Berryman.

Assistant Washington County State's Attorneys Gina Cirincion and Arthur Rozes handled the prosecution in the case.

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