SANTA ANA — Paul Michael Crowder, a 19-year-old dropout convicted of second-degree murder in the post-prom shooting death of a Crescenta Valley High School basketball star, was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison by a judge who called him "a time bomb waiting to go off."
Berlyn F. Cosman, 17, was fatally shot in the head while she slept in a darkened room of the Crown Sterling Suites Hotel in Anaheim on June 1, after her school's Universal City prom and an all-night party.
The sentence was just a year short of the maximum allowed by law, attorneys said.
Rejecting Crowder's contention that he tripped and accidentally fired his gun, Orange County Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard sentenced Crowder to 15 years to life on the second-degree murder conviction, as required by law. He also added four years--out of a maximum five--for the use of a firearm, a .357 magnum pistol, in the shooting.
Despite pleas from Crowder's defense attorney, E. Bonnie Marshall, Millard ordered that the sentences be served consecutively, meaning that Crowder will not be eligible for parole for 12 years.
The judge also refused a request from the defense to allow Crowder to serve part of his sentence in the California Youth Authority, even though Assistant Dist. Atty. Christopher J. Evans did not oppose the move.
Instead, Millard ordered that Crowder be sent to the state prison at Chino.
Crowder, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and black and white running shoes, showed no emotion when the sentence was read or when he was taken in handcuffs from the courtroom.
The defendant's mother, Laura Crowder, said she and the defendant were prepared for the severe sentence.
"The way the judge was going and the courts were going, we were ready," she said outside the courtroom. "I know my son, and I know the kind of person he is, and he's not a coldblooded murderer, the way the judge portrayed him."
Crowder's mother said that she felt for Berlyn Cosman's parents.
"I really do. So does Paul," she said. "But it was an accident and there's nothing I can do about it. I can't bring her back."
Mark Cosman, Berlyn's father, who attended the sentencing with his wife, said that "as good as justice can do, it was done."
His voice breaking, Cosman added: "I can't hold my daughter any more. . . . In something like this, nobody wins. My daughter is dead. We have a young man that's going to spend a lot of his life in prison. Nobody won here. We're just very, very sad. . . . We're exhausted. We're glad that it's over."
Asked if he had any advice for other parents, Cosman said: "While you have your children, if you can love them and be with them as much as you can, then you don't have regrets for how you participated with them in life.
"And her mom and I don't have any regrets for the 17 years that we had our daughter."
Defense attorney Marshall said she was not surprised by Millard's denial of her motions or the stiff sentence, saying, "That's where he has been coming from since the inception" of the trial.
She insisted that the theory of the case that she presented to the jury--that Crowder tripped in the darkened room, discharging the pistol in a "tragic accident"--was "not a made-up defense."
After the sentencing, Marshall said she was going directly from the courtroom to file an appeal, based on a juror's contention that other jurors were "ganging up" on her during deliberations.
Evans, the prosecutor, said the sentence was "what I expected."
"It's appropriate," Evans said. "I think the judge took into consideration the mitigating factors when he cut off a little bit of time on the enhancement, as he should have.
"The judge has sent out a message, that that kind of conduct is going to be dealt with the way the law says it's going to be dealt with."
Millard used the sentencing to express in strong terms his shock at the atmosphere surrounding the fatal party.
Numerous teen-agers--some as young as 14 and 15, few of whom actually attended the prom--said that they went to the all-night party without their parents' permission or knowledge. Several testified that there was considerable drinking, some marijuana use and at least four guns at the hotel.
On the witness stand, party-goers acknowledged that in the hours and days after the shooting they had repeatedly lied, misled or left out information in interviews with authorities.
Millard noted that, at first, he was puzzled by the intense media interest in the case. Then it was explained to him by some journalists that the case typified "middle-class America, typified high school kids going to proms, drinking at prom parties, limos to proms, parents not knowing where kids are, guns and perhaps drugs," he said.
Initially, Millard said, he hoped this interpretation was mistaken.
"Unfortunately," he said, "this trial has persuaded the court that the situation with some young people in America today is perhaps worse than I had believed it to be.
"One of the things that I guess shocked me the most about the case was the fact that these guns were brought to this party, they were displayed at the party early on in the party and only a few of the party attendees left."
Crowder's story that he fired accidentally after he tripped, the judge said, "defies common sense and logic. . . . It is pretty clear that Mr. Crowder took guns to the party, that he waved them around, pretty clear he was drinking. . . . He was a time bomb ready to go off, and unfortunately he went off that morning."