A former shipyard worker, convicted 22 years ago of killing a man during an argument in a dice game, today remains at large while police seek him in connection with the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Rubin Lawson.
The youth, police said, was killed Sunday because the suspect believed Lawson had participated in a prank of repeatedly ringing the doorbell at the home of the suspect's father and then running away.
Police said William Cecil Brandon Jr., 49, of the 600 block of Brice St., is charged in warrants with first-degree murder and using a handgun in the commission of a felony as a result of Lawson's slaying around 8 p.m. Sunday in the first block of N. Smallwood St.
Brandon, police said, was convicted in December 1969 of shooting Carnell Kearns to death during an argument over a $1 bet in a dice game outside a tavern on the corner of Robert Street and Linden Avenue on Jan. 17, 1969.
At his trial, Brandon told Judge David Ross that he pulled a handgun in self-defense during the argument and that the gun discharged when he tripped on a curb. Originally charged with first-degree murder, Brandon was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison.
The object of an intensive police hunt, Brandon is currently on one year's probation for a drug violation.
Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the Maryland Division of Correction, said more information about Brandon's record wasn't immediately available.
Rubin, who lived in the 900 block of Edmondson Ave., was one of 10 children and his twin sister's best friend. His nickname was "Moe."
"We were almost inseparable and we did a lot of things together all the time," said Antoinette Lawson. "Basketball, go to the store together. Everywhere we went, we went together."
Rubin Lawson was pronounced dead about 8:35 p.m. at the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore, police said.
At the hospital, his mother, Isabella Archer, 31, was asked to identify him. "I got to the door," she said, "and that's the farthest I got. I was in shock to find out that a man had killed my son."
Last night, family members gathered at the Lawsons' home to mourn. Archer said Rubin's funeral will be held Saturday at the March Funeral Home on North Avenue.
Archer described Rubin as a sports enthusiast who loved to help people in the neighborhood.
Rubin was a seventh-grader at Harlem Park Middle School, where his grades recently slipped because he had been cutting class and roaming the halls, his mother said.
His twin, Antoinette, said that on the night of the shooting, she and her brother were visiting their grandmother, who lives in the 2000 block of W. Fayette St. Rubin Lawson played with a neighborhood boy.
About the same time, William Cecil Brandon Sr., 68 and semi-retired, was inside his two-story home.
"I was getting ready to sit down to eat and [two children] started ringing my doorbell," the elder Brandon recalled yesterday. "The food is still in the refrigerator because I didn't get a chance to eat.
"I went out to look and then they ran around the back," said the elder Brandon. He said that Rubin Lawson was not one of the bell-ringers and that he can't explain how Rubin got involved.
The elder Brandon and the victim's twin had different accounts of the events leading up to the shooting.
Both agreed that at some point Sunday night, the elder Brandon went outside and asked a man next door to tell his nephew to stop ringing his doorbell.
According to Antoinette Lawson, the elder Brandon admonished two boys, including Rubin Lawson. She said her brother argued in response.
The elder Brandon said he didn't fuss at the boys but simply told them to stop.
Antoinette Lawson said she grabbed her brother by the arm to walk across the street.
The younger Brandon ran outside and began fussing, she said.
"He pushed my brother to the ground and shot him in the chest," she said.
Antoine Branch, 24, who was visiting his grandmother on North Smallwood Street, said he heard children playing, and then "I heard a gunshot and saw the kid fall in the alley."
"I saw a guy in a pin-striped suit run up the alley," Branch continued.
According to the elder Brandon, he never saw his son shoot Rubin Lawson. He just heard the gunshot.
The elder Brandon said that he called upon his son to talk to the children in the first place because he believes children these days have more respect for younger people than older ones.
The bell-ringing has been a problem all year, he said, and because of that he placed a cardboard "No trespassing" sign on his porch earlier this month.
After being questioned by police, Brandon returned home and found his 1985 Ford Ranger burned, apparently in an act of retribution.
As he looked inside the engine of the charred truck yesterday afternoon, he shook his head.
He used the truck to supplement his Social Security checks. "This truck is the only extra income I had. I recycle material [aluminum cans] and what have you," Brandon said.
Archer and several people in the North Smallwood Street neighborhood said the elder Brandon disliked children.
"That's a lie," said the elder Brandon, who is the father of 12. "I gave the [neighborhood] kids potato chips, ice cream sandwiches and candy. Why would I do something to hurt one of them?"
Branch said the elder Brandon did give children treats, but that he "was very nasty and snobbish."
As the elder Brandon stood on his porch yesterday, one of his seven sons stopped by and asked if his father wanted to stay with him until things "chill out."
The father replied he wasn't leaving because he didn't do anything.
"All of this could've been prevented if these kids paid attention to their mothers and fathers and abide by the Ten Commandments," said Ernie Brandon, 31. "Why would you pick on an old man that doesn't bother nobody?"