On 'Zero Murder Day,' even the heavens weep

November 23, 1991|By David Simon and Rafael Alvarez Brian Sullam of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article

It was "Zero Murder Day" in Baltimore, but the number didn't hold.

At 2 p.m. Wednesday, as sheets of gray rain fell around him in Hopkins Plaza downtown, a local disc jockey named Randy Dennis pointed at a silver casket set up to represent the 262 murders committed by that hour and asked rhetorically: "Who's going to be in here tomorrow?"

At 3:30 p.m., 63-year-old Robert Coles, an employee at a Reisterstown Road auto parts store, reached for a gun to defend himself or the store from robbers and was fatally wounded in the throat by a shotgun blast.

The "Stop the Killing Rally" drew about 50 souls in the blowing rain. The march against murder was canceled. But with one more murder, two attempts, an autopsy, investigations, court trials and all the rest, the city's pattern of violence progressed.

"I'm as agitated as anyone about the violence," said the Rev. Willie Ray, whose street ministry founded the anti-murder campaign in 1985. There were 213 murders that year. Last year, there were 305. "But what the hell are you going to do?"

He organized yesterday's protest with Radio Station V103-FM and the March Funeral Home, declaring the event Zero-Murder Day in Baltimore. But the system proceeded in its own routine.

In the city homicide unit, detectives marked the day with their kind of humor. They wore index cards sporting large, pink zeros affixed to jacket lapels and shirt pockets. And when the first dayshift call came in at 7:15 a.m., for a non-fatal shooting in the Eastern District, Detective Martin Disney erased the zero on his index card and penciled in "1/2."

It was Zero-Murder Day in Baltimore, but no one told David McGee, a 31-year-old Essex resident who tried to buy narcotics at Oliver Street and Patterson Park Avenue and nearly got himself killed for it.

To his credit, Mr. McGee told officers no lies when they interviewed him later in the morning. The dealers fled the scene after burning Mr. McGee for his money. The victim was treated at University Medical Center for a superficial wound.

It was Zero-Murder Day in Baltimore, but at 10:30 a.m., Assistant State's Attorney Donald Giblin emerged from the grand jury room at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse with indictments for two utterly meaningless city slayings.

What else can you say about Homicide File No. 91217, in which an 18-year-old shot a child four years younger in a Southwest Baltimore racial dispute that began with a broken car window? Or File No. 91234, in which a 20-year-old killed a teen-ager over a stolen jacket?

It was Zero-Murder Day in Baltimore, but at a few minutes after 11 a.m., Detective Thomas J. Pellegrini left the basement of the ++ medical examiner's office with one spent, large-caliber round taken from the brain of Robert Eugene Williams.

"Partly mutilated," Detective Pellegrini said of the bullet. "Not real goodfor comparison."

Dr. Ling Lee finished the autopsy before noon. The 43-year-old Williams, the second victim in a Wednesday double slaying, succumbed to his head wound shortly before noon Thursday. Detective Pellegrini believed him to be a truly innocent victim, a man shot merely because he was with the intended victim on North Calhoun Street.

It was Zero-Murder Day in Baltimore, but at about the same moment that Detective Pelligrini was leaving his autopsy, a veteran prosecutor stood in Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell's courtroom to watch the jail guards and sheriff's deputies shape eight defendants into a single strand of shackled, handcuffed humanity.

The eight were assembled for arraignment in the September slaying of a 53-year-old gun shop owner slain during the daylight robbery of his Belair Road store. Four had lawyers; four did not, were advised of their right to counsel and returned to the jail pending rearraignment.

It was Zero-Murder Day in Baltimore, but at 11:35 a.m., a Northern District unit was called to Sinai Hospital. Lying on a E.R. gurney was 34-year-old Demorrice Mattox of Pimlico, a man in some pain from shotgun pellets to the right hip. Mr. Mattox told police that he was standing in the drug market on Virginia Avenue, doing nothing much, when he suddenly acquired enemies.

A bystander heard the shotgun blast and took Mr. Mattox to the hospital in his own car. Northwestern officers have only a vague description of the suspects.

It was Zero-Murder Day, and by 3 p.m., the state corrections department had taken in another three murderers among the 43 daily admissions. Two were from Anne Arundel County, one from the Baltimore City Detention Center; all three are to serve lengthy sentences in a prison system now overcrowded with more than 19,000 inmates.

At 3:05 p.m. on Zero-Murder Day, a 20-year-old witness took the standin Room 230 at Courthouse East to say that on the evening of July 28, she heard gunfire and saw Donald Booze running down a city street from the scene of drug-related double slaying, a gun in his hand. Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe interrupted to ask the nervous witness to speak up.

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