SNOW HILL — Bringing closure to a case that was tried and retried, postponed and rescheduled multiple times, a West Ocean City man found guilty of manslaughter and other charges in June for his role of the death of his longtime friend outside a downtown Ocean City bar in January 2013 was sentenced on Wednesday to seven years in jail.
After deliberating for just under an hour back in June, a Worcester County jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts against George Doran Nottingham, 49, of West Ocean City, including manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and affray. Nottingham was charged in January 2013 for his role in the death of Michael Post, 39, outside the Harbor Inn in the early morning hours during what began as a friendly dispute over a swiped cell phone and ended with the defendant swatting Post outside the door, causing him to fall on the icy, snowy sidewalk. Post suffered a fractured skull during the fall that ultimately caused his death.
Back in court on Wednesday, Nottingham was sentenced to seven years in jail, which was the high end of the recommended guidelines for the manslaughter conviction set at 2-7 years. Nottingham was also sentenced to five years each for the second-degree assault conviction, reckless endangerment and affray, all of which will be served concurrently to the manslaughter sentence. He was also given credit for 60 days already served.
The case took many turns before reaching closure with the sentencing hearing on Wednesday. Nottingham was first tried last August, which ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. The case was postponed several times for a variety of reasons over the last year or so before the new trial in June. After the one-day trial, the jury was out for just under an hour before returning with guilty verdicts across the board. From the beginning, it was never disputed that Nottingham struck Post, causing him to fall and strike his head on the icy sidewalk. What was in dispute, however, was who was the primary aggressor. The incident began as a friendly pushing and shoving match over the hidden cell phone, but in the end, someone had to be held accountable for Post’s death.
“If you have a barroom fight and somebody dies, somebody is going to do the time,” said Judge Dale Cathell after handing out the seven-year sentence on Wednesday.
Accountability was the common theme during the brief, but tense, sentencing hearing on Wednesday. In a somewhat odd break from typical court protocol, the sentencing hearing was held during the middle of a murder trial involving an incident in neighboring Somerset County, which had been moved to Worcester as a change of venue.
Executive Assistant State’s Attorney William McDermott first called on the victim’s mother, Judith Post, for her impact statement. Post reiterated her son and Nottingham had been longtime friends, but called for a strong sentence for the defendant.
“I know George did not set out to kill my son, but he did,” she said. “It was not just a bar fight and he didn’t just end up with a black eye. I want to see him held accountable for his actions.”
For his part, McDermott related Nottingham’s laundry list of prior offenses including assaults, batteries, disorderly conducts, DUIs and resisting arrest and pointed to a repeating pattern.
“Anger and alcohol sum up George Nottingham in this incident and in life,” he said. “The defendant still refuses to accept any responsibility for his actions or for anything that happened.”
McDermott hammered home Nottingham’s long criminal history.
“The defendant has been given chance after chance after chance,” he said. “He has been ordered to attend alcohol treatment and he, at a different time, was ordered to take anger management classes. We don’t know at this point whether he ever completed it, or if he completed it and didn’t learn anything.”
The maximum allowable sentence for manslaughter is 10 years, but the agreed-upon range following the pre-sentence investigation was 2-7 years. McDermott argued for the higher end of the spectrum.
“I ask for a sentence appropriate to this case and his history,” he said. “He has refused to acknowledge responsibility for anything in his life. Now, we have a daughter without a father and a mother without a son.”
Defense attorney Mike Farlow said his client had expressed remorse about causing his friend’s death and appealed for the lower end of the sentencing range.
“This is certainly a tragedy,” he said. “George Nottingham is asking for leniency. He was expressed to me on numerous occasions how sorry he is.”
For his part, Nottingham told the judge he regrets the poor choices that led to Post’s death every day.
“I want to apologize and take responsibility,” he said. “I loved Mike Post like a brother and my heart goes out to his family. There is no excuse. I miss Mike every day. It was 572 days ago and I live with it every day.”
Cathell sentenced Nottingham to seven years for the manslaughter count and five years each for the remaining counts including second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and affray. Nottingham was given credit for 60 days already served.