Nearly two years after a 19-year-old Potomac woman was raped and robbed in her home while her parents and sister slept upstairs, the last of her attackers was sentenced to 20 years in prison May 11.
Defense attorneys tried to show in the sentencing that then Winston Churchill High School student Schmouree Fordyce-Williams, 20, was a follower whose serious but brief mistake was the result of his learning disabilities, alcohol use and the influence of the other attackers.
Prosecutors said that that the armed robbery, burglary, and sex offense that Fordyce-Williams pleaded guilty to on May 10, 2005, do not amount to a single mistake. Two weeks after the crimes, he helped hide the gun the attackers carried, prosecutors said.
“This was not an impulsive decision made in a quick, brief time. This happened over hours and hours,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Deborah Armstrong, who prosecuted all five of the defendants in the case. “This was a night of terror that frankly violated all of society’s rules. The after-effect of what happened to [the victim] and those close to her will last long after all of us who are gathered here have forgotten about it.”
Fordyce-Williams originally faced as much as four life sentences for his crimes, but had his possible sentence capped at 25 years of imprisonment in a plea deal where he aided prosecutors and agreed to testify against other defendants if necessary.
Judge William J. Rowan III said he agreed with most of the state’s arguments.
“In the court’s view this was not a question of impulse control,” he said. “These weren’t impulsive things, they were things that should have never happened and I don’t know why they happened.”
He sentenced Fordyce-Williams to 25 years for the sex crime, suspending all but 20; 20 years for the burglary to be served concurrently; and three years for the earlier robbery, all suspended.
The effect of the sentence is that Fordyce-Williams will serve a 20-year term with the possibility of parole. When he is released, he will be closely supervised for five years and if he violates his probation, he could serve eight more years in jail without an additional trial.
“You’re not going to serve the whole 20 years, everyone in this courtroom that’s involved with the judiciary knows that,” Rowan said. “[But] remember when you get out — eight years hanging over your head. … And if I find out you violated it, away you go.”
In court testimony partly based on Fordyce-Williams’ confession, prosecutors gave the following account of the events of Sept. 4-6, 2004:
The criminals were Fordyce-Williams, then 19, of Potomac; Daniel Smith, then 18, of Potomac; Chris Benbow, then 17, of Upper Marlboro; Gujan A. Lee, then 18, of Washington, D.C.; and a 17-year old from Potomac who was tried as a juvenile. Fordyce-Williams and the juvenile were then students at Winston Churchill High School.
Smith had attended a party at the rape victim’s home Sept. 4 and took a key with the intention of returning later to steal laptops and other items.
At around 11 p.m. Sept. 5, Fordyce-Williams and Lee robbed two 16-year old girls in the parking lot of the Avenel Swim Club. They wielded a pellet handgun belonging to the juvenile and took jewelry and cell phones from the girls, which they later discarded. One of the attackers told the girls not to say anything because they “knew where they lived.”
At around 3:30 a.m. Sept. 6, the five men approached the rape victim’s house on foot with the intention of stealing items. When they reached the house, the juvenile, Lee, Fordyce-Williams and Benbow masked their faces and went in, but Smith decided not to enter the house and walked away.
The men entered the victim’s basement bedroom and woke her up at gunpoint. Benbow and Lee raped her and then Fordyce-Williams forced her to perform oral sex. The juvenile left the house. The victim's parents and sister remained asleep in the house.
The three men demanded money and drugs. When the victim told them she did not have any money or access to her parents’ ATM pin numbers, the men took several laptop computers, a wallet, and the victim’s sister’s purse.
Lee was sentenced Nov. 23, 2005 to life in prison. Smith was sentenced to four years in prison Dec. 14 for his role.
Benbow was sentenced to 20 years in prison Jan. 4. Rowan also presided over that sentencing and on Thursday told Fordyce-Williams, "I don't view any differently what Chris Benbow did and what you did. I see no difference."
The prosecution and defense agreed that Fordyce-Williams was remorseful for the crimes and that he cooperated fully with prosecutors following his plea agreement. But they differed over the mitigating factors that the defense—relying on the testimony of a professor of social work from the University of Maryland—said helped to explain the crimes.
“I was being very scared, very scared of life. I didn’t want to move on. I wanted to stay in high school. And I followed a lot of people and I did things I shouldn’t have done,” Fordyce-Williams said, addressing the court. “There’s nothing I can do to take that back. I wish to God there was, but there isn’t. … The only thing I can really do to prove that I’m a changed man, I’m not the same man I came here as is when I get out to do good. To do good by my family, to do good by my friends, do good by everyone.”
Rowan prefaced his sentence by saying that new judges are frequently told that their words at sentencing are the last thing a criminal hears before decades in prison and have the potential to reverberate throughout that time.
“If what they say is true that the defendant remembers what the judge says at the time of sentencing … I want you to think about something that you said to me,” Rowan said. “Make your mind up that to repay yourself, your family, and the victims in this case, you’re going to do good” both in prison and beyond.
Rowan said he was happy to recommend Fordyce-Williams for the Patuxent Institution, a Jessup, Md. correctional facility with a youthful offenders program that includes medical and behavioral therapy.
While a judge’s referral is required for placement at Patuxent, the institution has final say on acceptance.