The two young men charged with killing an elderly Homeland woman first met in church, according to the mother of one of them.
One went to church with his family on Sundays, but the other, who played gospel music tapes in his free time, would sneak off from home to attend weekday services as well, a neighbor said.
Yesterday, Troy Dominic Shellington and Abras "Sandy" Morrison, both 20 years old, were together again, this time in Baltimore District Court on charges of burglary, kidnapping and first-degree murder. A judge set bail at $1 million each. The two men were being held in the Baltimore City Detention Center.
Shellington, of the 3600 block of Cottage Ave., and Morrison, of the 6000 block of Lanette Road, near Rosedale, were arrested Saturday.
The victim was Margaret Cullen, 74, who lived in Homeland and was the wife of a retired dentist.
At St. Paul Church of God in Christ Jesus Apostolic in East Baltimore, pastor Josephine Diggs said neither man had ever shown any inclination toward violence or crime. Both had stopped attending church as teen-agers, but they came back about two years ago, she said.
However, by last fall Morrison had moved and Shellington was struggling with the church's code of traditional morality, she said.
"We didn't allow teen-agers to do some of the things he wanted to do," Diggs said. "We don't party."
When they were arrested, the two men were in possession of the Cullens' 1984 Cadillac, police said. Shellington led police to Mrs. Cullen's body near a cornfield in Carroll County where, police said, the two men had driven her on Aug. 15 and stabbed or strangled her to death.
Because the body was badly decomposed, it will take a couple of days before the cause of death is determined, a medical examiner said.
Each man has fingered the other as the killer, police said.
Morrison, who was home-sitting at the Cullen home, had gotten to know the couple while caring for Dr. E.B. Cullen, 80, as a private nursing aide at Good Samaritan Hospital in northeast Baltimore, according to police.
Investigators said they believe the two men had broken into the Cullen home to threaten Mrs. Cullen into dropping a complaint about an alleged check forgery to bilk her out of $2,000.
About 20 of Morrison's family members and friends were present in court yesterday to watch as he was led before the bench in a line of accused men, including Shellington. They were linked by handcuffs like a string of paper dolls.
Some of the young women and girls in the group cried out at first sight of Morrison. One collapsed to her knees and sobbed.
"He doesn't know any other life. All his life he stayed with me," said his mother, Rhonie Morrison, a seamstress now living in the Towson area. "He never even had a parking ticket."
The lawyer representing both suspects told the judge they had clean records.
Mrs. Morrison, who lives apart from her husband, a restaurant chef, said her son had been a Catholic altar boy, was graduated from Mount St. Joseph's High School and was a Maryland National Guard member.
She said he had attended Catholic University in Washington and Essex Community College before studying to be a nursing aide as a way to earn money to continue college later.
Mrs. Morrison, a naturalized citizen originally from Liberia, said she raised her seven children by strict standards, forbidding them to date until they graduated from high school. She often urged her son to break off his friendship with Shellington, she said, because she didn't like Shellington's looks.
After meeting as boys in church, the two stopped seeing each other for a few years, she said, but resumed the friendship after her son left home about a year and a half ago to live with an older sister on Lanette Road.
He left home because, once he was allowed to start dating, he stayed out well past midnight, Mrs. Morrison said. "You know I don't tolerate that," she told him.
Outside Shellington's house in the Pimlico section of the city, two women who identified themselves as Shellington's cousins declined to talk about him and said their grandmother inside had nothing to say either.
A few doors down, a 14-year-old neighbor remembered Shellington for his sneaking off to church.
"He'd say he was going to play baseball with his friends, but he'd go to church," the teen-ager said. "He stayed in the home and listened to church music. . . . He didn't like no rap music."
The teen-ager also remembered Morrison driving by sometimes to pick up Shellington in an old Chevrolet until one day recently, he came in a Cadillac. "I thought it was his," the teen-ager said.
Apparently the two young men wanted to be rid of it. A classified ad that ran in The Baltimore Sun newspapers last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, touted a Cadillac that had "1 owner," and only 36,000 miles. After listing a telephone number at Shellington's address, the ad said, "lv. msg. for Troy."