Nearly 30 years after turning down a plea deal on a murder charge, only to have a judge sentence him as a teenager to life without parole, Dameon Brome, now 45, finally received another shot at a deal. This time, he accepted.
The original offer would have freed Brome and codefendant Kempis Songster a decade or more ago. The new deal, approved in a Philadelphia courtroom Tuesday by Judge Barbara A. McDermott, makes Brome eligible for parole next month.
It also makes him the latest of nearly 100 so-called juvenile lifers from cases in Philadelphia who have since received new sentences in the wake of last year's historic Supreme Court ruling that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.
In 1988, Brome and Songster, runaways to a Jamaican drug gang, ignored pleas from family and attorneys to take an offer of
third-degree murder and a 10- to 20-year prison sentence in the stabbing death of Anjo Pryce, 17, another runaway working for the Shower Posse in Southwest Philadelphia.
A jury then convicted them of first-degree murder. Judge George Ivins imposed the mandatory life without parole. A defense attorney said it was like watching his client commit suicide.
On Tuesday, Brome told McDermott he had matured in his nearly 30 years in prison, during which time he has written screenplays, published a book, and worked in the print shop and recording studio inside the state correctional institution at Dallas.
He said he could trace his development into a critically thinking adult from an impulsive and shortsighted teenager, hallmark traits of which led to the
Supreme Court ruling.
"I can say that happened," Brome told the judge. "I can truly say that happened."
The teenagers were seemingly full of potential when they left their homes for Philadelphia, Brome and Songster from Brooklyn, Pryce from Florida: Brome showed an early affinity for computers; Songster wanted to be an actor; Pryce was an artist whose drawings ended up on the walls of fortified crack houses in Philadelphia in the year before he was murdered.
On Tuesday, Brome engaged in a deliberative back-and-forth with the judge over the legal implications of the negotiated sentence before he officially accepted the offer of 30 years to life. He said that he had discussed the offer with Songster and his own current attorney, William Bowe. Because the sentence still carries a maximum of life in prison, there is no guarantee of parole.
Last month, Judge Jeffrey Minehart sentenced Songster to 30 years to life, five years less than what the District Attorney's Office sought. Current Pennsylvania law carries a 35 years-to-life sentence for first-degree murder for a juvenile.
Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey said
Songster's sentence was "certainly a factor" in extending the same punishment to Brome.
Brome and Songster were involved in the violent October 1989 uprising at the state correctional institution at Camp Hill. Lightsey said a correctional officer was prepared to testify that Brome had assaulted him, behavior the judge said would have been a factor in a contested sentencing.
In the last decade, as Songster raised his profile with pro bono representation all the way to the federal appeals court, and worked with advocates for juvenile lifers, Brome led a quieter life. In an interview in 2015, Brome expressed nervousness about the reality of post-prison. "How do you catch up?" he wondered.
Pryce's father and sister, who traveled to Philadelphia for the Songster sentencing, did not attend Brome's hearing. Brome said in court he wished he could have apologized to them in person.
Instead, he apologized to his own family, including his mother, father, and stepfather, and to the family of Songster, who came to court for Brome's hearing. "They embraced me," Brome said. "I have to apologize to them as well."
He said he blamed himself for setting the tragedy in motion as a 15-year-old
"The initial spark in this misguided, for lack of a better word, event started with me," he said. "It started with a phone call, me calling Kempis. … I always felt all of this was my burden. I brought this on everyone involved. I wanted to say I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."