Nicholas Heath, the man convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 stabbing death of Ottobar employee Tom Malenski and second-degree assault in the attack of another employee, was sentenced to 20 years in prison this morning. Each charge received a 10-year sentence, the maximum allowed in the state of Maryland.
Judge John Addison Howard seemed incredulous about the defense's argument Heath was acting in self-defense, telling the court he took the rare step of visiting the Ottobar in the midst of the trial to observe the building and its surroundings.
Heath could have gone to his car, parked behind the building, but he instead went south on Howard Street, where he used a knife to attack the two Ottobar employees after his friend had been kicked out of the club, Judge Howard said.
Though he told the courtroom it was not his job to second-guess the jury, which acquitted Heath of a more severe murder charge, Judge Howard said of the self-defense claim: "I don't recall the evidence that would have supported that at all."
After addressing statements made by Heath in which he was "railing against" rich white kids and pointing out Heath's own income would have placed him in a high earning bracket, the judge told the defendant, "Essentially, a great deal of what you said does not make sense to me, and it troubles me."
In his ruling on the second-degree assault conviction, the judge referenced language used in the trials over Freddie Gray's death, saying surveillance video from before the stabbing shows Heath's friend did not receive a "rough ride" as he was escorted from the Charles Village rock club. He told the defendant it was hard to understand how someone who's studied jiu jitsu, as Heath has, would pull a knife and slash someone's face instead of using their training.
Before the sentencing, family members, friends, and co-workers, some donning Ottobar staff hoodies over their shirts and ties, offered victim impact statements for the judge to consider. They all echoed similar sentiments: Malenski gave up drinking and helped others struggling with substance use; he was affable, empathetic, and a good listener; he used some of the money he earned to help support his mother and grandmother. They said they knew nothing could bring Malenski back, but they hoped the judge would deliver the maximum sentence, so that some sense of justice and closure could come.
Many who testified fought through tears while reading their statements, as dozens of people in the gallery dabbed their eyes with tissues.
Malenski's stepmother, Nancy, told the judge: "I wake up every day knowing I will never see him again. I would give anything to hear him again and tell him he was loved."
Ottobar employee Chris Bolesta spoke of the trauma from continually returning to work at the site of Malenski's slaying.
"I used to love working at the Ottobar, because I knew Tom would be there," he said. "Now I'm paralyzed by the fear of losing another friend."
Malenski's mother, Sandra, recounted how her son would help take care of her mother, who suffered from dementia. Her grandmother died in November of this year.
"I do not see my future, because my future was Tommy," she told the court.
In addition to the testimony, 127 written victim impact statements were submitted to the court.
Heath's attorney, Margaret Mead, read letters from his sister-in-law and wife, who lives in England and could not get off work to fly to Baltimore after making multiple trips. She talked about his skill as a tattoo artist and relationship with his 9-year-old daughter.
"My husband is not the heartless cold monster he was made out to be in this trial," read the letter from his wife.
Wearing a yellow jumpsuit and shackles, Heath also addressed the judge, saying "I can't begin to convey how sorry I am," later adding, "Nobody should have to die. Nobody should have to suffer like that man did."
Though he told the judge he would "accept my sentence, whatever it might be," he seemed agitated following Judge Howard's ruling, having a terse exchange with Mead and muttering something inaudible, save for the word "fuck," as he was carried out.
Outside the courtroom, Malenski's mother and stepmother embraced and shed more tears.