Suspect in mall shooting released

January 07, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer Staff writer Robert A. Erlandson contributed to this article.

Baltimore County police were so confident they had the right suspect in the shooting of a night supervisor at the American Cafe at Owings Mills Mall that they had already typed up the charging documents.

But the 16-year-old Randallstown youth they arrested after he was identified by the victim produced an alibi -- and it checked out. So today police were left with no suspect -- and a puzzling mystery.

Antonio Lamar Rice, a popular varsity football player for the Randallstown High School Rams, was released about 1 a.m. yesterday after 11 hours in custody, to the relief of fellow students and school officials.

"The alibi was sufficiently corroborated that we didn't have sufficient information to place charges," said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger. "And we had to release him."

Police say that the restaurant's night supervisor, John Matthew Newton, 25, positively identified young Rice -- who also worked at the restaurant -- as the person who shot him once in the head at point-blank range during an after-hours robbery Tuesday night.

Yesterday, Mr. Newton was listed in serious but stable condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. His doctor said yesterday that it may be a "miracle" that the bullet that entered his brain did not do more damage.

Mr. Newton has suffered no memory loss and is coherent and speaking in complete sentences, said Dr. Philip Militello, clinical director of the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He said Mr. Newton says he remembers the shooting clearly.

Because the victim knew the suspect, and clearly identified him as his assailant, police arrested the Rice youth.

Police said they had charged him and released his name to the public on Wednesday but that they never formally placed charges against him.

Sergeant Doarnberger said the youth's alibi "caused sufficient doubt on the identification that charges weren't brought."

He declined to say what the alibi is. "We know that it will become an issue at a subsequent trial, no matter who is arrested, so we're not going to discuss it in detail," he said.

Antonio Rice was not in school yesterday, and his family declined to talk about the case.

School officials said the Rice youth is a good student who is well liked by friends and teachers, and an outstanding athlete.

"Mr. Rice is a nice young man," said Jim Higgins, the athletic director at Randallstown High. "He works hard at football."

"He appears to be very well-liked and respected by students," said Clark R. Powell, the principal at Randallstown High. "There have been some very positive things said about him. We just hope that he comes out of this thing on a positive note."

Mr. Clark said he, teachers, staff, students and parents were upset over a barrage of news coverage surrounding Wednesday's arrest at the school.

"The school has nothing to do with this issue, yet it was made a focal point," he said. "That led to some frustrations for some people."

Meanwhile, Dr. Militello said Mr. Newton suffered a single gunshot wound to the head. The bullet, probably a .22, entered the right side of his forehead and then fragmented into nine pieces.

Doctors have decided against operating to remove the bullet fragments, fearing surgery might do more harm than good.

After being shot Tuesday night, Mr. Newton lay on the floor of a back room in the restaurant, unable to summon help. He was discovered the next morning by the restaurant's day supervisor.

"Mentally, he's fine," Dr. Militello said. "He remembers being shot and that the gun was a foot and a half away from him."

The doctor said Mr. Newton has been able to talk to family members and, though sleepy, is fine. "He doesn't seem to be in a lot of pain -- bit of a headache, but that's understandable."

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