ROCKVILLE, Md. – A Maryland woman convicted of killing two of her adopted daughters and storing their bodies in a home freezer offered no hint of what drove her to torture them, as she was sentenced Monday to two consecutive life terms, plus 75 years in prison.
Renee Bowman, 44, maintained the inscrutable exterior that she displayed during the trial last month, showing no emotion even as she apologized.
"I am very sorry for the abuse of the girls," she told Montgomery County Circuit Judge Michael J. Algeo in an even voice. "It haunts me. It haunts me every day."
The judge was unconvinced.
"You come across as such a nice, soft-spoken person," Algeo said. "I can only conclude that the Renee Bowman I see before me is a different Renee Bowman from the one who lived in that house in Lusby."
It was in that southern Maryland community that the bodies of Minnet and Jasmine Bowman were discovered in a locked freezer in September 2008. Authorities searched the home after a third sister escaped from the house and was found wandering the neighborhood.
Investigators concluded Bowman had killed the girls months before, while the family was living in Rockville, and took the freezer with her as she moved around. Even after the girls were dead, she continued to collect subsidies paid to adoptive parents of special-needs children.
A jury convicted Bowman last month of two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree child abuse. Bowman had earlier pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree child abuse in Calvert County for abuse of the third girl that took place in Lusby. She received a 25-year sentence for that.
Monday's sentence was the maximum allowed under Maryland law.
"You sentenced these two young innocent children in the dawn of their lives to a death chamber, and for you that option is not available," Algeo said.
Bowman's lawyers maintain she did not kill the girls, though they acknowledge the abuse. Public defender Alan Drew said the defense would appeal the murder convictions but declined to comment further.
Prosecutors painted Bowman as a sadist who derived pleasure from her children's misery as she kept them in a locked room with a bucket for a toilet. All three girls had severe injuries from repeated beatings, and none of them ever went to school. The surviving girl, now 9, testified at the trial that Bowman beat them with a shoe and a baseball bat and repeatedly choked them until they lost consciousness.
State's Attorney John McCarthy quoted from an e-mail Bowman had sent a friend in which she gleefully compared herself to the death-row warden in the movie "The Green Mile." She said she shouted, "Dead man walking," when any of the girls was about to be punished. "They hate it. Hahaha," Bowman wrote.
At Monday's hearing, Drew asked Algeo to show mercy in sentencing. He cited Bowman's own difficult childhood, saying she was given up by her own mother, who was schizophrenic, and raised by another woman. Bowman had occasional visits with her mother and later, while she was in high school, saw her mother sleeping on park benches, Drew said.
McCarthy said satisfaction at the sentence was dampened by concern about how Bowman was able to adopt in the District of Columbia, despite a previous conviction and financial problems, and how the abuse could go on so long undetected.
He also expressed lingering concerns about the surviving 9-year-old. The girl, who dazzled the courtroom with her poise as she testified with a teddy bear in her arms, again faces an uncertain future after the foster parents whom she repeatedly waved and grinned at during her testimony were rebuffed in their efforts to adopt her, McCarthy said.
"God knows she's going to have lifelong difficulties dealing with the emotional, as well as the physical, scars from these crimes," he said.