Restaurant shooting victim was improving his life

December 28, 1992|By Kris Antonelli and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Kris Antonelli and William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writers

A Baltimore man killed during Saturday's apparent botche robbery of a Cockeysville restaurant was himself an accomplice in a murder and robbery 12 years ago -- but family members and his employer say he was turning his life around.

John D. Tillman, 29, a restaurant employee on prison work release, was working at the Sizzler Steak House at 8:36 p.m. when he was shot in the face after clashing with one of four masked men who barged into the restaurant in the 10000 block of York Road and demanded money. Police have made no arrests in the case.

In 1980, a then-16-year-old Tillman pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and attempted armed robbery in the shooting death of a 43-year-old Westview Park man, James Orndorff. A 17-year-old companion with Tillman was actually the one who shot Mr. Orndorff in the bungled Feb. 24, 1980, robbery attempt on a Mass Transit Administration bus in West Baltimore.

Although prosecutors at the time said Tillman was the one who was least responsible for Mr. Orndorff's death, a jury convicted the trigger man of lesser manslaughter and attempted robbery charges and acquitted an 18-year-old companion. All three were charged as adults.

Tillman was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with all but one year suspended, and placed on five years' probation.

"All mothers like to think that their children can do no wrong," Tillman's mother, Ruth, said yesterday. "But my son had gotten himself in a lot of trouble and he was getting his life back together again."

But getting his life in order proved a difficult task for Tillman, who found himself imprisoned again on Dec. 23, 1985, for violating his probation after being charged with theft and burglary. He received an 18-year sentence, with one year suspended, according to Division of Correction records.

Last May 6, Tillman was sent to the Baltimore City Pre-release Unit on Greenmount Avenue, where he resided, to begin a

work-release job in preparation for returning to the community, said Cpl. J. Scott McCauley, spokesman for the Division of Correction.

Baltimore County police believe Tillman, a salad bar worker, was in the right place at the wrong time -- that the slaying was a random robbery attempt, rather than a planned murder.

Witnesses in the restaurant, which had about 16 patrons at the time, told police that the men accosted Tillman after entering the establishment and demanding to know where the manager was. Tillman apparently refused to tell the location of the manager.

"They were looking for the manager, and they wanted him to open the safe," said a woman who witnessed the shooting and asked not to be identified. "They couldn't find him. They pulled one guy out and kept saying to him, 'Where is he, where is he?' "

Although there were conflicting statements from witnesses about what was said between the gunman and Tillman, his answers apparently did not satisfy them.

"And that's when they shot him right in the head," the witness said. "We were right there."

Police said the gunmen made off with 12 to 15 wallets -- and an unknown amount of cash -- belonging to patrons and some of the 13 employees working Saturday night.

Restaurant manager Scott Smith would only say yesterday that he did not see the shooting. Police said he was in the rear of the restaurant.

"He [Tillman] was a good guy," Mr. Smith said. "He came in and did his job and was very cooperative."

Yesterday, friends and family members consoled each other as they gathered at Ruth Tillman's home in the 6500 block of Woodgreen Circle in Baltimore County. A green suede jacket that Tillman had bought his mother for Christmas was lying on top of a box under the tree.

"Why didn't they just take the money?" Ruth Tillman asked.

Mrs. Tillman said her son would have completed his work-release time in March; then he planned to come home to raise his 10-year-old daughter.

"I'm not saying he was an angel, but he was paying his due to society," she said. "He was a kid who had gotten himself into some trouble."

While the Tillman family grieved, business owners along the 10000 block of York Road said they were concerned.

"It's kind of scary that they are still out there," said Amy Jefferson, a clerk at Forthuber's Florist. "But I don't think they would come in here. We don't have that much money."

Ms. Jefferson and her co-worker Lynette Nueslein agreed that the shooting was unusual for the area.

"But things are getting worse," Ms. Nueslein said. "It's moving up here. It's not just happening in the city anymore."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.