TOWSON, Md. – A Maryland teen pleaded guilty Monday to shooting his father, mother and two younger brothers to death as they slept, then going back to a friend's house to play video games.
Nicholas Browning, 16, of Cockeysville pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree murder in the February slayings of John W. Browning, 45; Tamara, 44; Gregory, 14, and Benjamin, 11.
Browning wept in court as prosecutors described the crime. A sheriff's deputy brought him a box of tissues, and Browning wiped his eyes and blew his nose.
In exchange for the plea, prosecutors will not seek a sentence of life without parole. Instead, they will seek a maximum of two consecutive and two concurrent life sentences, meaning Browning could eventually be released on parole.
Offenders serving life sentences become eligible for parole consideration after serving 15 or 25 years, depending on the circumstances of the conviction, according to the Maryland Parole Commission. Under that formula, Browning could serve as many as 50 years before getting a parole hearing.
Browning was a week shy of his 16th birthday at the time of the slayings, too young under state law to face the death penalty.
According to a statement of facts read in court Monday, Browning walked home after midnight from a friend's house. He shot his parents and brothers in their heads as they slept, then returned to the friend's house and played video games, pretending nothing had happened.
The next day, Browning and his friends went to a shopping mall, and he placed several calls to his family, leaving them messages to say he loved them and would see them soon. A friend's father drove him home, and Browning emerged from the house to say something was wrong with his father. The friend's father saw John Browning's body and called police.
Browning later confessed to the slayings and told police where they could find the murder weapon.
On Monday, Browning stood between his attorneys and answered a series of questions from Baltimore County Circuit Judge Thomas Bollinger about whether he understood the plea. The 6-foot-2 teen wore a blue polo shirt and khaki pants.
"Has anybody forced you, coerced you, to get you to plead guilty in this case?" Bollinger asked.
"No, sir," Browning said.
Browning's grandmother, Margaret Browning, was in the courtroom Monday morning as attorneys hammered out the deal but was not present when her grandson entered the plea. Other relatives did not speak to reporters as they left court.
Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst asked Bollinger to lift a gag order that barred attorneys from speaking to reporters. The judge declined, saying it would be lifted after Browning is sentenced Dec. 2.
Browning's attorneys attempted earlier to have his case transferred to juvenile court, but Bollinger denied that motion after a hearing in July.
That hearing included testimony from Dr. Neil H. Blumberg, a forensic psychiatrist for the defense, who said Browning had disruptions in consciousness, memory and perception on the night of the killings. He said Browning indicated he was in "a trancelike state."
State psychiatrists found Browning had no diagnosable mental illnesses.
Blumberg also testified that relatives and friends told him they had seen Nicholas' parents abuse him. He said the family had a history of alcoholism and that John, Tamara and Nicholas abused alcohol.