tant state’s attorney who prosecutes drug-related cases, asked the judge to given Garner the maximum sentence of three years.
George Lee Rome Jr., 28, died of an overdose in September 2016. His body was found in the early morning hours on Sept. 28, 2016, in the Calvert Marina area in Solomons after Garner called the police. Investigation later showed that Rome died at a woman’s home and was moved to the marina area.
“He left him there for a day as if he was trash,” Ridge said. “Showing that level of disrespect to a fellow human being … he deserves every bit of the three years.”
Garner’s lawyer Michael Beach from the public defender’s office said Rome died in Jacquelyn Wallace’s home where Garner was staying.
It was the second overdose at her home, and she feared losing her child, Beach said in court Friday, noting his client did not mastermind the move.
After the body was moved to the marina area, Beach said Garner stayed with Rome’s body the whole night, cried, broke down and eventually called the police.
Beach went on to say his client has engaged in recovery programs and has done well at the St. Mary’s Detention Center where he is serving a sentence for other cases. He submitted a letter from a health professional who worked with Garner and wrote that he exhibited “a genuine desire to change.”
Beach also read a letter from Garner’s sister, Stephanie Townsend, who said she and her husband are willing to open their home to Garner and promised to provide a stable environment for him.
Reading the letter Townsend submitted for the cases in St. Mary’s, Beach said his sister disclosed that Garner’s mother abandoned them when they were teenagers.
“I don’t think Mark ever recovered from that,” Beach quoted Townsend’s letter while she sat in the gallery of the courtroom along with two other family members.
Beach said his client’s “low-level dealing” was to support his own drug habit, and it was a recipe for disaster when his addiction was compounded with the trauma from his mother’s abandonment, genetic predisposition to addiction, a car accident that left him severely injured and mental health issues.
When reading a statement he wrote, Garner choked up when talking about Rome, his childhood friend.
“He supported me when I was weak,” he said, noting Rome always held a special place in his heart and Rome was there to embrace him and listen to him when he learned his mother had abandoned him.
Garner spent a few minutes talking about the impact of drug addiction and the ongoing opioid crisis penetrating communities nationwide, citing actions from President Donald Trump and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who grew up in St. Mary’s, to increase awareness and combat the epidemic. He acknowledged he needed help and said he has done what he could to improve himself.
“I try to find redemp- tion in every person that comes before me,” Calvert Circuit Judge Marjorie Clagett said after hearing the prosecution and the defense. “I sat through the motions for all the hearings. I was touched.”
Clagett said she understands the prosecution’s position that the body should not have been moved in the first place. After reading the victim impact statement from Rome’s father, George Rome Sr., she said she also understood the heartfelt sentiment that no parent should bury a child, the sadness of not being there when he died and the thought of him being left in the cold area by the marina.
But given the circumstance of how the death happened at Wallace’s house and because of Garner’s action following Rome’s death, Clagett gave him a sentence of a year and a day, instead of the maximum sentence of three years.
“It was clear that Mr. Rome was a childhood friend. He overdosed. He died,” Clagett said. “And all of that is so tragic.”
In a separate case where Garner took an Alford plea to conspiring with others to distribute drugs, Clagett gave him a suspended sentence of five years Friday. In a third drug-related case, Clagett gave Garner a five-year concurrent sentence in July for a drug-distribution conspiracy conviction.
In February 2017, Wallace, the woman whose home Rome died in, took an Alford plea to burying or disposing of a deceased body in an unauthorized place. Calvert Circuit Judge Mark Chandlee gave her the maximum sentence of eight years with all but 18 months suspended in September 2017. He authorized Wallace work release and gave her five years of supervised probation.
Garner has been incarcerated since September 2016. He has filed an appeal for his two St. Mary’s cases.
Earlier in March, Garner was acquitted of a charge of second-degree “depraved heart” murder in the August 2016 death of Barbara Ann Sneden, a 31-year-old Chopticon High School graduate who had entered a treatment program to address her addiction to heroin.
St. Mary’s Circuit Judge Karen H. Abrams dismissed a conviction for involuntary manslaughter in that case but gave Garner a 10-year suspended sentence for a drug-distribution conspiracy conviction and a concurrent five-year sentence for a reckless endangerment conviction.