Nearly a year after Expedito "Pedro" Lugo was brutally beaten with his own baseball bat near Patterson Park, the question remains: Why?
Was the attack by black teen-agers against the Hispanic man racial? Was it retaliatory? Or was it unprovoked, a random confrontation that flashed out of control?
On the eve of the trial of the teen-agers charged with the attack, people close to the case say it had nothing to do with race or retaliation. Investigators, witnesses and lawyers describe a senseless onslaught -- a chilling example of random violence and disregard for human life.
Some of the people interviewed for this story spoke off the record because of their sensitive roles in the trial, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday. One person, intimately familiar with the facts, summarized the case this way:
"It's just about here comes this guy with a brand new baseball bat and I feel like - - - - - - - up somebody."
The attack took place May 17 just north of Patterson Park in the first block of N. Kenwood Ave. Mr. Lugo, 5 feet 7 inches tall and 140 pounds, was walking by himself to the park carrying his baseball bat.
Several teen-agers approached him. One asked to see his bat, according to statements to police by witnesses and the accused teen-agers themselves.
Mr. Lugo gave them the wooden bat, according to the statements, and then they punched him and knocked him down. One youth swung the bat full-force into Mr. Lugo's head. He was struck once or twice, according to the statements.
He was left with two dents in his skull.
An early newspaper report quoted unnamed witnesses as saying a crowd of teen-agers chanted "die, die, die" during the attack.
But a witness who was interviewed recently said she heard no chanting.
The teen-ager accused of swinging the bat told police that several girls in the crowd yelled for him not to hit Mr. Lugo with the bat.
The teen-agers charged are Keith Robinson, James Holley and Andre Flythe.
Mr. Flythe is 19. Keith and James were 15 at the time. They turned 16 in the Baltimore City Detention Center, where they have all been held since their arrests.
All three are charged as adults with assault and attempted first-degree murder, even though Keith is the one accused of hitting Mr. Lugo with the bat. If convicted of attempted first-degree murder, they could be sentenced to life in prison.
Each one has pleaded innocent. Their trial is scheduled in city Circuit Court before Judge Elsbeth Levy Bothe.
Keith's mother, Sharon Denise Robinson, declined last week to talk about her son. But a few days after his arrest she told an Evening Sun reporter that he was "an average kid" and "a good-natured boy." She said he must have been "with the wrong crowd and didn't make a wise decision."
In a statement to police the night of the attack, Keith said he was walking home from Hampstead Hill Middle School with a couple of guys when he crossed paths on North Kenwood Avenue with "the Hispanic boy," whom he knew from playing basketball.
He said he asked to see the young man's baseball bat.
"I said, 'This is a nice bat. I'm going to keep it.' " (Later, while reviewing a written record of his statement, Keith wrote in at this point: "I was just joking.")
Then, his statement read, the other teen-agers began beating up Mr. Lugo "for no reason" and began calling Keith "a whore and a punk" for not joining in.
The statement continued:
"Robinson advised at that time he began swinging the bat in Mr. Lugo's direction, near his head. Robinson advised that there was a large crowd around him, and that he hit something, and that it was very possible that he struck Mr. Lugo in the head."
Mr. Flythe, the 19-year-old, is accused of throwing the first punch, according to the statements to police. His mother, Betty Gleaves, told The Sun's Michael Olesker outside a courtroom last summer that her son was "a timid kind of boy" who doesn't start trouble, but the type that others beat up.
The third teen-ager, James Holley, told police that Keith said he wanted to fight Mr. Lugo because Mr. Lugo had "called him a nigger." It is not clear when Mr. Lugo allegedly said this. No one interviewed for this story could verify that Mr. Lugo ever slurred -- Keith Robinson.
James' mother, Velma O'Neal, in a recent interview at her home, said that during numerous conversations with her son at the jail he had not told her any reason for the attack.
Ms. O'Neal sat in her living room, the walls bare except for one plaque: "My Home Prayer . . . God rest His hand upon my door, and bless this house forevermore."
She has five children, ages 3 to 19. James, her second-oldest, has lived at times with her, with his father and with an aunt.
He quit school in the eighth grade to get a job to help support her, she said.
"James wasn't a bad person," she said.
"He was just walking with the crowd, collecting guys to go play basketball. He must have been with the wrong crowd at the wrong time."
She said she visits him every week at the jail. She said that his cell is in a juvenile section but that he eats and goes into the courtyard with adults. He has been assaulted several times, she said, and once was hospitalized because officials thought he might try to commit suicide.
"Jail's going to make him into something he ain't," she said. "James is just a confused little boy. James is a little boy in a man's body now."