Confessed killer gets stiffest term

Brian Hall admitted in 2005 that he had slain an 18-year-old woman in 1987. He will serve up to 20 years.

The Philadelphia man who walked into a police station in 2005 and confessed to a 1987 killing was sentenced yesterday to the maximum - 10 to 20 years in state prison - for the slaying of the 18-year-old Nicetown woman.

Brian Hall, 54, formerly of Germantown, was prepared for a long sentence. Moments earlier, he apologized to family members of murder victim Rosella Atkinson and to his own family.

"Over the years, I did have a hard heart, and your daughter did not deserve what I did to her," Hall told Atkinson family members gathered in the sixth-floor courtroom at the Criminal Justice Center.

But Hall said he had found the Lord, and though it took a long time, that's what led him to the 14th Police District on Sept. 29, 2005. "He made me confess, and I am sorry," Hall said in the hushed courtroom - where the quiet was occasionally broken by the soft crying of Atkinson's family.

And then it was time for those family members to tell Hall directly about the pain he had caused.

"I want you to understand that you have practically destroyed my family - and your family," Rosella's mother, Freedeina Carney, told Hall. "I hope you do get yourself together because there's only one that knows what really happened, and that's the Almighty."

Atkinson's father told Hall, who had said in his confession that he kept seeing the dead girl's face flash in his mind, that such memories will endure.

"In the wee hours of the morning, she'll torment you again," James Atkinson told Hall.

Rosella Atkinson disappeared from her family's home in October 1987, but her body wasn't found until 1988 when a teenager came across the skeletal remains near Central High School.

And then, the remains went unidentified until forensic sculptor Frank Bender did a bust of the young woman - and the Atkinson family visited a 1990 exhibit of Bender's work and noticed the striking resemblance.

But the case wasn't solved until Hall walked into that police station.

Assistant Public Defender Helen Levin said that Hall was intent on pleading guilty from the day he surrendered. "He just couldn't live with it any more," she said.

Hall pleaded guilty last week - but left it up to a jury to decide the degree of his guilt. The jury decided it was third-degree murder - a killing done with malice but not premeditation.

Assistant District Attorney MK Feeney said the defense had tried to portray Hall as some kind of "good Samaritan," but she said he had a prior record and deserved the maximum.

The judge agreed.

"Although justice in this case may have been delayed, clearly justice has not been denied," said Common Pleas Court Judge Shelley Robins New as she imposed the sentence.


Contact staff writer Emilie Lounsberry at 215-854-4828 or elounsberry@phillynews.com.