A retired judge on
Wednesday cut in half the 100-year sentence he gave a defendant 23 years ago,
partially granting a defense motion asking him to reconsider.

The defendant, Gerald Jamar
Cook, 40, was convicted of second-degree murder and related offenses in
1996 for the shooting death of William Louis Miller the previous year. Cook,
who was just shy of his 18th birthday when he committed the murder, has served
23 years of his sentence.

Prince George’s
Circuit Judge Steven I. Platt, now retired, sentenced Cook to a total of 100
years in prison but never ruled on a motion to reconsider that was filed after
sentencing. Platt held a hearing in August, more than 23 years after the motion
was filed, and on Wednesday issued an opinion reducing Cook’s sentence to 50
years.

“(Cook) now has some
hope that, eventually, he will be released if he’s favorably considered by the
parole board,” said attorney Thomas McManus, of Sasscer, Clagett & Bucher
in Upper Marlboro. “He’s still processing it, but we’re basically pleased
that the sentence was effectively reduced by 50 years.”

McManus’ co-counsel,
Linda M. Brown of the Law Office of Linda M. Brown in Laurel, was not
immediately available for comment.

Cook had asked for his
sentence to be reduced to 35 years, the upper limit of the range
recommended at the time of his sentencing using advisory guidelines,
according to the opinion. At the time, Platt said he deviated from the
guideline because he found Cook was an “extreme danger to the community” and
had a “total disregard for human life.”

Platt said it “gave
(him) no pleasure” to sentence Cook to what amounted to life in prison in 1996
— Cook would first be eligible for parole at the age of 68 — and there is
still pending litigation over the legality of the sentence in light of the
evolving law on sentencing for juveniles.

Cook filed a motion to
correct an illegal sentence in 2017, claiming recent Supreme Court and Maryland
Court of Appeals opinions applying to juvenile sentencing require revisiting
his case. A judge denied the motion and it was appealed. In November, the Court
of Special Appeals issued an order to show cause why the appeal should not be
remanded for further proceedings in light of a 2017 Court of Appeals decision.

McManus said that
motion may have been rendered moot by Platt’s ruling because the new sentence
is no longer tantamount to life in prison.

Platt said rather than
addressing the legality of the sentence, the motion to reconsider asked him to
determine if Cook was still a danger to the community.

“My short and final
answer to that initial inquiry is that I really had little doubt in 1996 that
my original sentence was not only fair and appropriate, but necessary to
protect society,” Platt said in his opinion. “I still believe in 2019 that in
fact that was the case at the time of the original sentencing in 1996. For that
reason, I have no regrets about my original sentence, nor do I see any reason
to reconsider it in 2019, some 23 years later, unless there is evidence that
The Defendant has changed.”

At the time of the
crime Cook was 17 years and 11 months old. He and two others forced their way
into an apartment and demanded money. While they were searching the apartment,
Miller entered and was put on the floor and shot. Platt noted that the jury did
not believe Cook’s claims that he was not present.

At the hearing last
year, Cook said, “I am not that 17-year-old who didn’t know the value of life,”
and his sister testified that he has “changed” during his incarceration.

Platt said that his
exclusive purpose in sentencing Cook to 100 years in prison was to remove him
from society for public safety reasons but that, in 2019, other purposes of
sentencing, such as deterrence and rehabilitation, should “perhaps” be given
greater weight.

Though he said Cook’s
crimes were and remain “horrifying,” Platt said the parole board can determine
if Cook should be released, which will not happen immediately despite the
reduced sentence.

A spokeswoman for the
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office was not immediately available
for comment.

McManus said Cook was
grateful for Platt’s decision and he and his family now have hope that he can
eventually be released.

The case is State of Maryland v. Gerald Jamar Cook, CT951837B.