The eight-foot projection screen dropped from a courtroom ceiling. The surveillance video began to play. And from her seat in the second row, Cassandra Atkens — in court Thursday to watch her daughter’s killer be sentenced — knew what she was about to see.
The video showed how light it still was at 7:17 p.m. June 1, 2015, in a Target store parking lot in Germantown where Atkens’s daughter, Mariam “Shadé” Adebayo, had agreed to meet ex-boyfriend Donald Bricker one more time.
She was there to tell him it really was over.
He pulled up in his truck, then got in her car and brought out a .44-caliber, replica-style black-powder revolver — a gun that he’d ordered online and that had arrived just that morning. The two struggled. Adebayo broke free.
In court, some of those watching the video could see a small, blurry figure run from the car, trailed by a plume of smoke. Then another figure appeared and another plume of smoke before the first figure fell to the pavement.
But many of those details were lost to Atkens, her eyes filled with tears, her hands over part of her face. “Maybe,” she said softly after court, “it was not meant for me to see.”
What she witnessed, much more clearly, was Bricker, 29, being sentenced to life in prison with no chance at parole. The hearing concluded the tragic, closely followed case, long marked by the contrast between victim and accused.
Adebayo, 24, was a vivacious recent college graduate with a wide circle of friends. She met Bricker online. He was a high school graduate and a felon — which prevented his buying a conventional weapon — but could be charming and seemed devoted to her. That devotion turned to obsession, with Bricker texting her relentlessly and showing up unannounced to her work. When she broke things off, he couldn’t handle it.
“You were in a jealous rage,” Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Dugan told Bricker. “You didn’t want anybody else to have her because you couldn’t have her. You snatched from this world a wonderful person. You ruined the lives of her friends and her family. And you ruined the lives of your own family.”
Bricker’s parents cried during the sentencing hearing, as did rows of Adebayo’s friends and relatives.
Dugan was incensed that — after hearing Adebayo’s mother address the court and cry about her love for her daughter — Bricker didn’t apologize to her when he had his turn to speak.
Bricker spoke relatively briefly of Adebayo, saying, “I’m very remorseful for what happened. . . . I never meant to do what I did.” He described seeing autopsy photos of Adebayo: “I just couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. I don’t think I ever will.”
But during a rambling, 50-minute statement, Bricker spoke mainly about his history of emotional instability and how he has tried to come to terms with the murder while behind bars.
“You had a chance to listen to her mom pour her heart out in this courtroom. Not one time, not one time,” Dugan said after Bricker spoke, “did you apologize to her for taking her daughter’s life. The closest you came, and I thought you were finally going to get to it is when you said: ‘I’ve apologized to God. I’ve apologized to the air in my cell.’ But you never one time apologized to that woman for taking her baby girl from her. Not one time. ”
Atkens spoke in court for 18 minutes, reading from comments she had written. “If richness was judged by smiles, she would be the richest person who ever lived,” Atkens said of her daughter. “She was a princess.”
The daughter of African immigrants who grew up in Germantown, Adebayo was popular in high school, earning the title of most talkative in her senior year. She graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park and had a job with a health-care company and was looking into graduate programs in occupational therapy.
Atkens also addressed Bricker, saying, “It is beyond the human imagination how one day you could love a person and another day pull a gun to end their life.”
She continued: “I trusted you with my daughter, even though I was clueless of your background. I guess she was comfortable with you. You claim you loved you her. You held her. And you kissed her. And you touched her. Well guess what? I did all that and more. I lost a life that was cherished for a little over 24 years.”
She said her daughter speaks to her, telling her that she is taking a rest and telling her not to cry.
“As deep as the wound is, I am hoping in time we can reunite with Shadé, and then we can talk to her,” Atkens said, her voice cracking. “But that’s not happening any time soon.”
After shooting Adebayo, Bricker fled in his truck, was pursued by police, crashed and was taken to a hospital, where on his back and handcuffed to a bed, he confessed to the murder on video to detectives.
“When I shot her the first time, she was kind of running, I guess,” Bricker volunteered, speaking in a soft, measured tone in the confession. “Then she stopped, and she turned sideways. I saw her face, and she was just kind of like in a daze. And then she fell.”
He later pleaded guilty and then tried to recant his plea.
Bricker graduated from North Hagerstown High School. By his 21st birthday, court records show, he had been charged with assault, trespassing and failing to obey a restraining order, cases that were dropped. But one case stood: a statutory rape case from 2008, when Bricker was 20. He had sex with an underage girl, initially denied it and eventually pleaded guilty to third-degree sex offense, according to court records.
On Thursday, he asked for a sentence in the murder that would allow him to be released from prison at some point: “I believe I should be punished severely, but not lose my humanity.”
He also said however that he might feel worse if he were released from prison. “I feel like I might relapse back into serious depression,” Bricker said, in a comment that drew sighs from people who’d known Adebayo.