One morning last winter, Charles Wright lost his life over 50 cents.
Wright, 38, was accused of snatching two quarters another man had put down to reserve a pool table at the Nite Owl bar. Then he was fatally stabbed in a fight outside the bar located in the 3600 block of Woodland Ave.
"To kill man for two quarters I think is beyond words," Wright's brother, Clinton, told Baltimore Circuit Judge Elsbeth Levy Bothe.
Edward A. Moss Jr. accepted a plea bargain and yesterday was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the Jan. 26 stabbing. The 39-year-old defendant pleaded guilty to a count of manslaughter and carrying a deadly weapon.
"I'm sorry," Moss said before sentencing.
In court, the victim's relatives denounced the plea bargain as a "slap on the wrist" and said Wright's was a case of premeditated murder.
"It's a shame that you can kill somebody for two quarters and you slap them on the wrist," Clinton Wright told the judge and walked away.
The violence erupted during a night of heavy drinking by Moss and Wright, said prosecutor Richard D. Lawlor. There was a "heated argument" between the two men after the disappearance of 50 cents Moss had put down on a pool table. Moss accused Wright of taking the money.
Lawlor said another man intervened, handing Moss 50 cents. The man said, "This is crazy," according to the prosecutor. "There's no reason to argue over this."
But Moss left the bar, returned later with a knife and confronted Wright outside about 1:30 a.m., Lawlor said. A witness told police that Moss twice told Wright, "Get out of my face," then struck at Wright's chest before fleeing on foot.
The knife perforated Wright's heart and one of his lungs. He was later pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital. The weapon was never recovered.
Under the plea agreement, Moss was sentenced to the 10-year maximum for manslaughter and a consecutive two-year term on the weapons charge. Lawlor said the sentence is the same as the bottom of the sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder.
Wright's relatives called the killing premeditated murder. "If he left the bar to get a knife isn't that premeditated murder?" Maria ++ Wright, the victim's sister, asked the judge.
"There is an indication of premeditation, but it is not conclusive," he said. And the prosecutor said Moss had no record of violent crimes, while Wright had been arrested for assault.
The violence was sparked more by heavy drinking and a Baltimore brand of machismo than by the alleged theft of 50 cents, Lawlor said.
"Perhaps the 50 cents was the lighting of the match, but the alcohol and the need to save face in front of one's peers provided the gas so that when the match was lit there was an explosion," Lawlor said.
Wright, of the 7200 block of McClean Blvd., was married and had two daughters, his brother said. He worked as a painter.
"Life is so cheap, you know," said Clinton Wright, a 44-year-old city employee. "I took out a loan from a credit union to bury him. Twelve years hardly seems like enough time. My brother's life was snubbed out. They just shut the case and got on with the next one."