You cannot look at Steve Basu. Not directly. Not in the eyes. Not for long. You cannot look at Steve Basu, without imagining, in the split second he comes within your gaze, the nightmare he has lived for the last 346 days. You cannot look without wondering how he goes on. And you cannot look without feeling, in some quiet corner of your conscience, a good bit of shame.
Yesterday, Steve Basu sat with his head bowed at times and his palms pressed against the cool wood of the gallery benches of Courtroom 12 in Baltimore County Circuit Court. He appeared exhausted. To his left and right were relatives and friends.
As Steve Basu sat there, you tried to imagine him as an ordinary anybody, a guy with his wife and little girl at, say, the Howard County Fair one summer Sunday. He would have preferred, of course, life as a face in the crowd, known only to family and friends and co-workers -- and certainly not famous for his pain.
Instead, Steve Basu has spent the last year as the unwitting celebrity-surviving-husband of a woman whose name has become synonymous with not only carjackings but also with a form of random violence that sends tremors from cities to suburbs. Almost a year ago, the Basu case made national news because of its unfathomably violent nature and because it happened where this sort of crime rarely happens -- in the sweet flow of suburban life. The Basu case is a lasting symbol of the modern predatory crime -- men attacking a woman, losers attacking a winner, have-nots from urban areas scorching the earth in the affluent cul-de-sacs of America.
The rate at which we turn out young men who commit these crimes -- when they are not preying upon each other in drug-laced cities -- is the great shame of life in America today. It affects everything and everyone, no matter where you live.
The crime occurred Sept. 8, 1992, in Howard County. A young man named Bernard Miller and an older accomplice -- Rodney Eugene Solomon, 26 at the time of the crime -- attacked Pam Basu as she drove her 22-month-old daughter to preschool. The attack occurred within minutes after Steve Basu had waved goodbye. Miller and Solomon commandeered Pam Basu's BMW, dragging her to her death and dumping her child along the road.
Yesterday, each time he heard some dark detail of the crime during Solomon's sentencing hearing, Steve Basu dropped his head. At least twice he cradled his face in his hands.
"ONE-POINT-SEVEN MILES!" said Michael Rexroad, one of the prosecutors, reminding the jury of the distance the driver of the car had dragged Basu. Who was the driver?
For the state, there was no doubt. Rodney Solomon had driven the car with Basu tethered by a seat belt. Rexroad had jurors -- and, from his seat in the gallery, Steve Basu -- transfixed as he recited a litany of witnesses and what each had said, all of which pointed toward Solomon as the driver and, therefore, a "principal in the first degree" to the murder of Pam Basu.
As for the clinical psychologist who said Solomon had an IQ of 75, the mind and emotions of a child, and several anti-social personality traits, Rexroad took a red pen and, across a poster listing all the psychological terms ascribed to Solomon, scribbled, in large graffiti-like letters, the words "Criminal Personality."
This was his second prosecution in the Basu case and here, near the end, Rexroad let loose. Steve Basu stared intently as Rexroad's anger left a ringing in the air.
He tore everything apart: Solomon's claim that Basu's death was an accident, Solomon's attempts to make Miller the main actor in the carjacking, Solomon's claim that he was "bleeding mentally" from Basu's death.
Rexroad called the latter "perhaps the most disgusting statement I've ever heard a human being ever make.
"The thing that caused [Pam Basu's] death is sitting right there," he boomed, pointing toward Solomon at the defendant's table.
"He doesn't even have the guts to own up to the crime and he has the gall to stand there and tell us it was an accident. . . . How DARE Rodney Solomon say this is an accident. . . . I hope we never see a crime like this again."
Two rows back in the gallery, Steve Basu looked down at the floor. You could sense him sighing deeply. You could not look at him. Not for long.