On a hot summer night, patrons at a South Baltimore bar cowered in the back as Darnell Sewell stood outside firing a 9mm handgun wildly into the air — the first act in a burst of violence that left three victims wounded by gunfire in two nights.
A Baltimore judge sentenced Sewell on Friday to six life sentences with all but 60 years suspended after he was convicted of attempted first-degree murder and gun offenses in connection with the spree, which prosecutors described as "sprawling and reckless."
Sewell, 25, began shooting into the air outside Brooklyn's Bar in the 700 block of E. Patapsco Ave. late on July 9, 2011, after a dispute with a man with whom he had allegedly carried out a home invasion some time earlier.
Less than two hours later, Sewell trained his gun on a man walking to a nearby store with his fiance, shooting him multiple times. Ninety minutes later, he opened fire on a moving car, wounding the driver. A few days later, Sewell shot another person in the chest.
"There was no rhyme or reason for Mr. Sewell's indiscriminate selection of victims, all of them innocent pedestrians and passersby," said Thiru Vignarajah, head of the Major Investigations Unit at the Baltimore City state's attorney's office, in a statement.
State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein pointed to the hefty sentence as one success of his office's stated focus on convicting criminals who commit numerous violent offenses. Bernstein has recently faced criticism that he not doing enough to lock up the worst of the worst, including from a passerby who heckled him at a recent East Baltimore news conference.
"We obviously have more work to do, but we are making progress," Bernstein said in a statement.
In a statement to police summarized by prosecutors, Sewell said the 2011 violence erupted after a dispute among members of the Bloods street gang with whom he claimed to have once been affiliated. He denied any involvement in the shootings.
Prosecutors were not able to figure out a motive for the attacks, writing in court papers that Sewell appeared to have shot anyone "who might stumble across his path of violence."
"The random selection of his victims is chilling; it evinces an uncommon disregard for human life and a serious and real danger to the community," Vignarajah and assistant state's attorney LaRai Everett wrote.
Sewell continued to deny any role in the attacks, according to court filings. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
In addition to the 2011 shootings, prosecutors wrote in court filings that Sewell had been identified but not charged as a suspect in a 2009 attack in the 5100 block of Pennington Ave. in the city's Curtis Bay neighborhood.
Sewell has a long and varied criminal history dating to 2006 that includes convictions for drug dealing, marijuana possession, gambling and a handgun offense.
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