ELKTON — A woman has received seven and a half years in prison sentences for killing one of her shoplifting accomplices in September when she backed over her with a car in the Elkton Walmart parking lot as they tried to make their getaway.
Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Brenda A. Sexton imposed the sentences on the defendant, Chermaine Latee Mayo, 39, of Wilmington, Del., during a courtroom proceeding Tuesday. Mayo will serve her term in a Maryland Department of Corrections prison.
In March, after a two-day trial, a Cecil County Circuit Court jury deliberated approximately 30 minutes before finding Mayo guilty of gross negligent vehicular manslaughter, failure to return and remain at the scene of a traffic accident resulting in death and theft of more than $100 and less than $1,500.
The jury also returned guilty verdicts relating to several traffic offenses, including reckless driving, negligent driving and failure to render assistance after a traffic accident resulting in bodily injury.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Sentman recommended that Mayo receive 15 years and eight months in sentences — the maximum penalty of the combined sentences relating to her criminal convictions.
The judge, instead, imposed sentences on Mayo totaling seven years and six months. The sentence imposed by Sexton was within state sentencing guidelines, which, not factoring in consecutive sentences, set a penalty range of six to 10 years of incarceration for Mayo. State sentencing guidelines are based on a defendant’s criminal record and other factors.
Sexton imposed a flat sentence on Mayo, meaning that the judge did not order Mayo to serve probation after her prison release. The judge noted that Mayo has 16 prior convictions on her criminal record and, based on that, Sexton opined that Mayo would not be a good probation candidate.
Assistant Public Defender Jason David Ricke, who represented Mayo, recommended no more than three years of incarceration for his client. Ricke specifically requested a 10-year sentence, with seven years suspended.
Mayo apologized Tuesday while addressing the judge, moments before sentencing. Mayo asked for leniency, explaining that she has children who need her care and that she continues to suffer emotionally from the loss of her friend in the deadly incident leading to Mayo’s charges and convictions.
During her trial four months ago, Mayo opted not to testify in her own defense.
Mayo’s convictions stem from an incident that occurred at about 1:15 a.m. Sept. 8 in the parking lot of the Walmart Supercenter in the 1000 block of East Pulaski Highway, where a store security guard confronted Mayo and her two companions, also Wilmington residents, as they allegedly left the business without paying for more than $1,000 in merchandise.
Investigators identified Mayo’s two companions as Keneesha Cunningham, 35 — the woman who was killed during the incident — and 26-year-old Donisha Jaquil Harris, whom prosecutors consider a lesser player.
At trial, the security guard who had confronted the shoplifting suspects — Richard Shade, 73 — recalled the deadly incident.
Shade told jurors that he twice asked two of the women to see their receipts, after noticing them walking away from the Walmart while pushing two shopping carts containing items packed in Kohl’s and Macy’s bags, which stirred his suspicions.
The women ignored him and kept walking, according to Shade.
Shade testified that he then watched two of the women — later identified as Mayo and Harris — take the merchandise out of the shopping carts and load it into the backseat of the 2006 Chevrolet Impala while Cunningham used her body to block the car’s rear license plate. She did so to prevent Shade from taking a cellphone photo of it, he told jurors.
Employed since April 2018 by United American Security, which is contracted by Walmart, Shade testified that he had taken photos of suspected shoplifters and the license plates on their vehicles in the past to aid investigations.
Cunningham ignored his request for her to move aside, according to Shade, who noted that he is not permitted to use force.
Then Mayo got behind the wheel and Harris got into the front passenger’s seat, while Cunningham remained behind the vehicle, still using her body to block the license plate, Shade recalled.
“She held onto the spoiler, with her legs down over the license plate,” Shade testified, recalling how Cunningham was positioned when Mayo revved the car and drove it in reverse.
Shade told jurors, “I thought they’d go forward. She (Mayo) lost control and hit (a curbed) island. The girl (Cunningham) came off and the car landed directly on top of her. That’s the last thing I expected her to do. I was kind of stunned by it. It happened so fast.”
Shade testified that he immediately attempted to check on the woman pinned beneath the car, as did a bystander, and that he called authorities.
Sentman called several other witnesses, including four Elkton Police Department officers who handled various aspects of the case.
Testimony from those EPD officers indicated that Mayo and Harris fled from the crash scene, leaving Cunningham pinned beneath the vehicle, and then continued through the Walmart parking lot, before running northward across East Pulaski Highway.
A short time later, EPD investigators arrested Mayo and Harris without incident on the other side of that highway, near the Chili’s restaurant and Royal Farms store, according to police testimony.
In the courtroom on both days of trial, Sentman played a store surveillance video of the deadly incident to jurors.
During a videotaped interview with an Elkton Police Department investigator, which occurred within hours after the deadly incident, Mayo explained that she drove backward through the Walmart parking lot because she was trying to conceal the rear license plate. Sentman played a portion of that video for jurors.
In addition, Sentman called Bryan Stafford, the Cecil County Department of Emergency Services paramedic who pronounced Cunningham dead at the scene. Stafford told jurors that Cunningham, who still was pinned beneath the car when he arrived, had suffered a severe neck injury that, he opined, had killed her quickly.
Law enforcement testimony, along with that given by Denise Flanagan, a Walmart loss prevention/security employee, indicated that investigators recovered $1,113 in stolen merchandise from the impounded Impala and returned it to Walmart.
Ricke conceded at trial that Mayo was guilty of the Walmart shoplifting theft charge. But the defense lawyer told jurors that his client’s actions in that Walmart parking lot did not rise to the level of criminality.
“There are two words to describe what happened: Tragic, accident,” Ricke remarked during his opening.
Harris, meanwhile, is awaiting her Aug. 19 trial, court records show.
She is not charged in connection with the deadly crash, only in relation to the shoplifting incident. Harris is charged with theft of more than $100 and less than $1,500 and a mirroring conspiracy offense.
In November, as part of a plea deal, prosecutors placed Harris’ criminal case on the stet, or inactive, docket. In a stetted case, the state can seek prosecution at any time within three years. During the last two years, however, they must first convince a judge that good faith cause exists to pursue prosecution.
During that November hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael J. Halter and Harris’ assistant public defender, Christina L. Harris Schlecker, outlined the terms of that stetted case plea agreement during a private bench conference with retired Cecil County District Court Judge Stephen J. Baker.
In late February, however, the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office removed Harris’ criminal case from the stet docket and is now seeking prosecution.
The conditions of that now-nullified plea deal remain secret. Harris did not testify as a state witness during Mayo’s trial in March.