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Judge shows no mercy in pair of sentencings

April 23, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Circuit Court Judge ignored two Sandy Hook sisters' last-minute calls for mercy Tuesday when he sentenced them on charges resulting from a February 2002 fire-bombing.

Circuit Judge John H. McDowell also bypassed sentence recommendations from the women's lawyers and from the prosecutor, who asked for terms that could be served in the Washington County Detention Center instead of prison.

Instead, McDowell chastised Sheena L. Compher, 38, and Donna K. Eagle, 44, for the deadly situation they caused when they allegedly lobbed burning Molotov cocktails at a house in the early hours of Feb. 8, 2002.

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Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Michelle Flores said in court in February that Eagle, Compher and a third person who was not charged each tossed a gasoline-filled beer bottle at the Sandy Hook Road home. Two bottles hit the house and exploded, Flores said at the time.

Eagle faced 17 charges and Compher faced 14, including first-degree arson.

Each woman entered an Alford plea in February to one count of malicious burning and one count of reckless endangerment. Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but agrees the state has enough evidence to gain a conviction.

McDowell sentenced Compher to the maximum sentence of five years per count to be served consecutively. Eagle was sentenced to the maximum sentence on the reckless endangerment charge, but received a suspended five-year sentence for malicious burning. On that charge, she received three years probation.

The remaining charges against the women were dropped.

Both women claimed in court Tuesday that they did not commit the crimes to which they pleaded guilty.

"I do have addictions," Compher said, admitting to problems with crack and alcohol. But "there's no way on God's earth I would take a human life. ... I pray that you just have mercy."

McDowell, speaking to Compher in court, said she had "if not the worst record that I have ever seen, one of the worst that I have ever seen," including 19 findings of guilt or guilty pleas to drug, theft and prostitution charges, as well as at least five probation violations.

"I see really no reason," considering the level of danger of the charges, "that any mercy should be granted to you," McDowell told Compher.

Eagle explained she has children and grandchildren, and she planned on moving from the area.

"I did not commit this crime," Eagle said.

Eagle had a shorter criminal history, including pleas to traffic offenses, McDowell said, but he still said Eagle's actions caused an extreme risk of injury or death.

McDowell ordered the women to pay $250 to Constance Cole, the owner of the house that was burned. That money will cover Cole's insurance deductible. The damages were more than $1,000, Flores said in court Tuesday.

Eagle also is awaiting trial on assault charges in Washington County. Compher is awaiting trial on a Frederick County, Md., prostitution charge.

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