Rough chivalry

May 02, 1991

Moments after a District of Columbia jury pronounced Jerry S. Tyler guilty in the shopping-mall slaying of Jay Bias, brother of the late University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, reporters asked Tyler's attorney, Victor A. Houldon, how his client was taking the verdict.

Without a trace of irony, the lawyer replied that Tyler's reaction "was like every other reaction he's had in this case. He's been a gentleman throughout, and a calm gentleman. And he's calm about this verdict."

The image of the calm killer who, despite his murderous act, presents himself as a "gentleman" may strike some as particularly incongruous. Certainly the Washington jurors thought so, or they wouldn't have convicted Tyler of first-degree murder, which requires the element of premeditation. (An accomplice was found guilty on the lesser charge of second-degree murder.)

What made this case notorious was the victim's relation to a local sports hero whose life also was tragically cut short. What makes it shocking is the apparent triviality of the killer's motive -- jealously over what appears to have been at most a harmless flirtation. Yet such killings have become almost commonplace, largely because of the easy availability of handguns and a culture increasingly inured to the violent resolution of even the most minor conflicts.

Certainly the grieving family of the two Bias brothers understands this grim reality, and they have used their unsought recognition to trumpet the need for meaningful gun control laws. Until society summons the will to end these scourges, the victims of such rough chivalry will continue to mount.

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