CAMBRIDGE — The Cambridge man who admitted to the murder of his girlfriend in a chilling confession to police was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Reflecting on extensive injuries Roshonda Willis sustained during the “brutal beating,” Dorchester Circuit Judge Brett W. Wilson handed down the sentence — the maximum penalty for first-degree murder — to Dion Darnell Ennals, 32, saying there was no other way to adequately protect the public.
In February, a Dorchester County jury convicted Ennals of first- and second-degree murder and first- and second-degree assault in connection to Willis’ death.
The murder, captured on surveillance camera footage, showed that it only took Ennals two minutes and 14 seconds to “punch, kick, choke, stomp and body slam” the life out of 39-year-old Willis, Dorchester County State’s Attorney Amanda Leonard emphasized during the trial.
The case stemmed from Ennals’ startling confession — “I killed her” — which he made at the back door of the Cambridge Police Department’s headquarters just after 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, 2021.
Officers who testified during the trial said Ennals came to the back door of the station covered in blood, dropped to his knees and placed his hands behind his back as he admitted to killing Willis.
Police handcuffed Ennals and loaded him into a police cruiser as he gave them directions to a lot near R & D Boat Supply on Washington Street, where Willis’ body was located.
An autopsy by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore ruled her death a homicide by multiple injuries, which included blunt force injuries to her face, head and neck, brain bleeds, internal injuries and numerous fractures.
Willis’ aunt, who was driving around the city with Ennals, Willis and a child that night, testified to the physical fight between the two that preceded the murder. Ennals, seated in the back, reached forward and wrapped his arms around Willis’ throat in a headlock.
When the car was pulled over and stopped, Ennals reached forward to grab Willis’ neck again, flipped into the front seat and opened the front passenger door, pulling her out of the car with him. Willis’ aunt then drove away from the scene and called 911.
Surveillance footage showed Ennals walking away from the scene of the beating in the direction of the police station.
At the sentencing hearing Friday, Leonard asked for life in prison without the possibility of parole, saying Willis’ murder was one of the most brutal assaults she’d seen in her career. Ennals had been given “opportunity after opportunity” to treat issues regarding his traumatic past, including physical abuse and other adverse childhood events, she said.
Leonard also noted Ennals’ history of domestic violence in his relationship with Willis. Court records indicated domestic issues between the pair beginning in March 2020.
In August 2020, Ennals was convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for a second-degree assault charge in relation to a domestic violence incident involving Willis. Ennals was released early in April 2021, but was arrested again for probation violations in May and June of that year.
Following the June arrest, Ennals was held in the county jail until Aug. 19, 2021 — a date that would later stick in the minds of both the prosecutor and the judge. Prior to his release that day, Willis asked to lift the no contact order stated in Ennals’ probation conditions, allowing unrestricted contact between the two.
“I believe the state failed her,” Leonard said of approving the removal of the no contact order. She added that she couldn’t help but think if she had gone against Willis’ wishes, she may have still been alive.
Three of Willis’ family members shared emotional testimony as to how the murder changed their lives.
“I haven’t had a chance to breathe,” said Langley Willis, Roshonda’s older brother. He emphasized that people like Ennals “don’t need to be part of society.”
“I’m past the hurt, I’m angry,” said Tykeshia Willis, Roshonda’s niece. Recalling her own similar past traumatic experiences, Tykeshia pointed to the stark difference between herself and Ennals: she didn’t kill anyone because of her past; she grew up and took responsibility for it, she said.
Tiarra Willis, Roshonda’s niece, said her aunt was “stuck in a situation with a monster where she couldn’t get out.” Her aunt was “everything” to her, but Ennals “took everything,” she said.
Prior to making a recommendation on sentencing, defense attorney Wesley Moore noted that while the trial was straightforward, the case still wasn’t simple. He highlighted a number of traumatic experiences Ennals had suffered beginning at a very young age, including multiple instances of severe abuse and neglect, mental and behavioral issues — primarily reactive attachment disorder, along with underlying brain dysfunction.
The doctor who evaluated Ennals for his presentence investigation report came to one notable conclusion, Moore said: Ennals’ ability to overcome the disorder was “tenuous” and had a less than positive prognosis, foreshadowing the rest of his life.
Ennals was a person who was set up to fail, Moore said, emphasizing the serious impact of his numerous adverse childhood experiences.
Moore initially asked for a life sentence with all but 40 years suspended, but said if the judge wasn’t amenable to that, his request was for a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
“He killed Roshonda Willis and he should be punished for that,” he said.
Ennals briefly addressed the court, saying he was taking responsibility for the murder.
“I’m not here to make no excuses for my actions,” he said, adding that at the end of the day, he was sorry for what he had done and that he didn’t mean to do it. Willis’ family members reacted strongly to his comments.
Before handing down the sentence, Wilson acknowledged the lifetime of trauma Ennals had experienced, saying no one should be forced to walk the path Ennals had been on. He noted the impacts of a traumatized brain on a person, and added that he was ashamed of the child welfare system that had been in place.
Wilson said the case was particularly difficult for him because he had watched it unfold from the start on Aug. 19, 2021. He recalled being asked to remove the no contact order between Ennals and Willis in relation to the domestic violence incident, and remembered approving it.
Five weeks later, the judge learned that Ennals had murdered Willis.
“I feel responsible in some ways for that,” he said.
Wilson said he liked to believe in redemption and had wanted to believe that for Ennals but noted the repeated incidents of “blind rage” and Ennals’ knowledge of the criminality of his actions, which was demonstrated when he walked to the police station to confess to the crime, as reasons for imposing the maximum penalty.
Following the sentencing, Ennals was transferred to a maximum security state prison.
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