Raven Michael Masters has only one life to live, but he is now serving 11 life sentences plus 40 years in prison.
The Hyattsville man was convicted on 24 counts of first-degree attempted murder and first-degree arson after trying to burn down the Germantown apartment building of a police officer who had arrested him on unrelated charges of breaking into the office of a plastic surgeon.
The judge who sentenced the 32-year-old Masters last week told him he would “never get out of prison alive.”
Legal experts say 11 life sentences for one person are not the twist of logic they might appear to someone unfamiliar with criminal law.
“Sentences like this are not all that unusual in a case involving multiple crimes or multiple victims,” Clifford Fishman, a law professor at Catholic University of America, told Germantown Patch.
Multiple sentences when there is more than one victim “might be a way to reflect the loss that each victim – or each victim’s family – has suffered,” Fishman said.
Police and fire officials say Masters set fire to the apartment of Montgomery County Police Officer John Distel last year while 24 people, including six children, were inside the building.
All of the people in the building escaped.
Punishing criminal defendants like Masters for each of the victims “is a way for the judge to express the community’s moral outrage at what the defendant did,” Fishman said.
In addition, even if a defendant successfully appeals to get some of the charges overturned, convictions on the remaining charges mean he still would serve a prison sentence, Fishman said.
Christopher Alan Bracey, a law professor at George Washington University Law School, said the Masters sentencing was unusual not for multiple sentences but for their severity.
“Usually, one sees concurrent sentencing … because it seems pretty clear, given multiple punishments, that the person will not likely be eligible for early release.”
Concurrent sentences refer to multiple sentences that begin running at the same time. The alternative is consecutive sentences, which means that when one is completed, another one begins.
Masters was sentenced to consecutive life sentences.
“In this case, I suspect that the judge sentenced the defendant to consecutive life sentences to ensure that this defendant will never be released, and to send a very strong signal that crimes of this nature, particularly retribution against law enforcement officials, will be prosecuted and punished to full extent of the law,” Bracey said.
In most cases, he said, “double digit multiple life sentences are typically reserved for very serious offenders, like serial killers.”