Just as Mark O'Donnell denied 14-year-old Ebony Dorsey her life and innocence last December, so too did a judge deny O'Donnell what he said he wanted most yesterday - death.
"Maybe the death penalty is too easy in some circumstances," Montgomery County Judge William J. Furber said.
Furber convicted O'Donnell of first-degree murder and sexual assault yesterday morning in the slaying of Ebony, who was the daughter of O'Donnell's ex-girlfriend, Danielle Cattie.
Immediately following the verdict, Furber took the capital case into the penalty phase to decide whether O'Donnell, 48, should receive the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The latter was the verdict.
Ebony was baby-sitting O'Donnell's 4-year-old daughter at his Plymouth Meeting apartment on Dec. 7, the morning of her death, while O'Donnell and Cattie indulged in an all-night cocaine binge at Cattie's Ambler home.
When O'Donnell returned to the apartment to pick up Ebony, he flew into a rage, claiming that he believed she had molested his daughter. After raping and sodomizing Ebony, he strangled her with her pajamas, according to the judge's verdict.
As nine guilty verdicts poured from Furber's mouth one by one yesterday, so, too, did tears pour from Cattie's eyes. She later said that, at that moment, she felt something she hasn't in six months.
"Relief. Unbelievable relief," she said. "I'm very happy justice was done for Ebony."
Cattie was undecided on whether she wanted O'Donnell to get the death penalty. She said she hoped life in prison would make him think about his crimes, but she doubted that it would.
"Part of me does want him to get death, part of me doesn't," she said. "Part of me thinks it's too easy and a part of me thinks it wouldn't even matter to him."
Prosecutors called just one witness during the penalty phase of the trial - Ebony's father, Evan Dorsey.
When he took the stand, Evan Dorsey, whose powerful statements invoked sobs in the standing-room only courtroom, turned his chair to the judge and kept eye contact as he spoke of what his daughter had meant to him.
"During my lifetime, I've been called many things, but the best thing I've ever been called is dad," he said. "For the last six months, I haven't had that."
Evan Dorsey said that his daughter experienced two deaths at O'Donnell's hands - the emotional death of being sexually assaulted and the physical death of having life choked out of her.
"Even worse about this - the person that killed her has daughters of his own," he said. "Would he have liked someone to do this to his children?"
Evan Dorsey said that the way his daughter had died was the opposite of the way he had tried to teach her to live.
"I knew I had one shot at [parenting]," he said. "I knew I was going to make mistakes but I didn't want to miss anything. Now, I'm missing everything."
O'Donnell's eight family members, who spoke on his behalf, begged the judge to spare his life. As his mother, siblings, cousins and niece spoke about what he meant to them, O'Donnell cried for the first time during the seven-day trial.
He was described as a protective, loving father to his two daughters and a quiet, responsible man who was always there for others. All family members who spoke said that they couldn't believe O'Donnell committed such a crime.
"I don't believe that was Mark. I believe that was Satan, but Mark let him in," said his cousin, Cheryl Johnson.
O'Donnell, an Air Force veteran who was working as a nurse at the time of his arrest, took the stand yesterday for the first time during the trial. He told the judge that his favorite type of nursing was wound care because he liked to care for wounds and watch them heal.
But O'Donnell said that he doesn't believe he'll be able to heal his own wounds and, in a surprising turn of events, he asked the judge to give him the death penalty.
"If I could trade my life for hers I'd gladly do it," he said. "If that's what the judge decides to do I have no qualms. I've lost my faith and I just can't see, even with Him [God] forgiving me, living." *