On Friday, Centreville teenager Gbassay "Omar" Koroma was sentenced on second degree-murder charges .
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Charles J. Maxfield imposed a 20-year sentence, with 10 years suspended upon completion of mental health treatment and five years probation. He also ordered 19-year-old Koroma to pay $6,800 in reimbursement costs to a state victims' fund.
There was never any doubt that Gbassay Koroma killed his father, Francis Koroma, but the prosecution and defense disagreed on the appropriate extent of the punishment. At the heart of both arguments was Koroma's long history of untreated mental problems—which started long before he stabbed his father with a kitchen knife, following an argument over housework.
"Francis Koroma got to say briefly to his girlfriend, Dora, 'Call 9-1-1, he's killed me,'" said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Katherine Stott, reminding the judge of testimony in a preliminary hearing last fall. She argued that Koroma was a danger to the public and should be put away.
"If this defendant can take the most serious action against his father—against someone I assume he has some loving feelings for—what could he do to someone on the street?"
Defense attorney Jonathan Esten called the case "tragic," but told the judge that Koroma was not entirely responsible for his actions. Koroma grew up in Sierra Leone, a country gripped by a horrific civil war for over a decade. His family escaped to the United States as refugees.
Before the attack, he attended the in Vienna, a public school for adolescents with serious emotional disabilities. When Koroma arrived at the psychiatric hospital, doctors described him as "overtly psychotic" and have since diagnosed him with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, Esten said.
"There's a long history of mental illness," Esten said, "and I would suggest to you that that history of mental illness not being addressed is why this happened."
Six members of Koroma's family were present in the courtroom Friday, some sniffing quiet tears as the lawyers presented their cases. Esten asked them to stand up and said that all had come out to support Koroma, despite what had happened.
"They're suffering on both ends," he said. "They've seen a loved one die, and now they're seeing a loved one sentenced to the penitentiary."
Koroma, , had little to say, but apologized to his family.
"I am sorry for what I did," he said.
The judge said that Koroma's mental health issues had factored into his decision.
"I think the degree of culpability in this case is not what you see in many murder cases," Maxfield said.