Police seek man charged in Towson student's slaying

March 04, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

A six-month investigation has turned into a manhunt for the alleged killer of Joel J. Lee, the Towson State University student shot in a Northeast Baltimore robbery that epitomized the ruthlessness of city street thugs.

Davon Neverdon, 19, of the 2400 block of Bridgehampton Drive -- just two blocks from the crime scene -- is believed to have shot Mr. Lee in the face for a wallet containing $20, police said. Mr. Neverdon, charged Wednesday with first-degree murder, armed robbery and a handgun violation, was being sought last night.

The Sept. 2 murder put life in a different perspective for Mr. Lee's Ellicott City family, who moved to the United States from Seoul, Korea, 22 years ago.

"The homicide lieutenant told me what happened, how my son was killed, and I cried," Mr. Lee's father, Kenneth Lee, said yesterday. "What a society this is. One man killed my son, and three others watched.

"No one reported or said anything. They had no conscience, no soul. In Korea, this case would have been solved in a week. Our society would not tolerate an act such as this."

Joel Lee, a 21-year-old computer science major, was about to start his senior year. He was looking for a friend's house to borrow a book when four teen-agers accosted him in a parking lot outside the Dutch Village Apartments in the 7000 block of McClean Blvd.

The student was carrying a handdrawn map of the area and had apparently gotten lost, prompting "the four marauding youths" to target him, a police report said.

Mr. Lee was ordered by Mr. Neverdon to turn over his wallet, and when he refused, he was shot just below the right eye with a .25-caliber pistol, police said.

He died instantly, still clutching the map.

"Mr. Lee . . . was summarily executed for the $20 in cash he was carrying," said Agent Doug Price, a city police spokesman.

The investigation initially turned up few leads, with the key clue coming from a witness who heard the name "Davon" spoken during the robbery, police said.

Over the next six months, detectives struggled to locate all people named "Davon" living in the city's Northeast neighborhoods.

In the last few weeks, detectives began questioning Mr. Neverdon's acquaintances and found the three other teen-agers allegedly involved in the robbery, police said.

Police have not decided whether to charge them with aiding in the crime. "Whether or to what extent they participated in the crime has yet to be determined," Agent Price said.

Detectives and U.S. Marshals went to Mr. Neverdon's home to serve the arrest warrant Wednesday, but he apparently had fled, police said. The handgun used in the murder -- and Mr. Lee's wallet -- have not been recovered.

The memory of Joel Lee has reverberated around the city.

In the past six months, Towson State students have held a vigil in Mr. Lee's honor and university officials awarded a posthumous bachelor's degree for him to his parents.

In January, city police opened a community policing office at Dutch Village Apartments, citing the Lee murder and surging drug-related crime in the area around McClean Boulevard.

And just last month, Kenneth Lee made a poignant appearance at a City Council confirmation hearing for new Baltimore police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and pleaded for the murder to be solved.

"For six months I have been so full of despair. I have been waiting and waiting and waiting," Mr. Lee, an environmental engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore, said yesterday.

He says he can't understand why a $250 million football stadium is being planned in Baltimore, even as city officials acknowledge that the Police Department is overburdened and understaffed.

"In Baltimore they are killing people every day," he said. "Football is not an issue. Crime is the No. 1 issue. People whose loved ones are killed are the issue. Spend the money on them."

An artist who loved to draw cartoons, Joel Lee hoped to land a job in the computer-animation field, his father says.

Mr. Lee says he has been in contact with the Stephanie Roper Foundation, a victims' rights group, to talk about issues involving crime victims. But he believes there is little that can be done to change the way American society reacts to crime.

"It's very difficult for me to understand how this society can have such horrible crime, so many guns, and do so little about it," he said.

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