Charges dropped in boy's death

April 04, 1994|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

Murder charges against a New York parolee stemming from the East Baltimore shooting death of 10-year-old Tauris Johnson have been dropped by the city state's attorney, but the man remains jailed on federal drug charges.

Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms confirmed yesterday that his office allowed the murder charge against Nathaniel J. Dawson to be dismissed at Friday's preliminary hearing. He declined to give the reason, maintaining that the case was being pursued "with vigor."

Sgt. Gary Childs, a city police homicide detective who investigated the shooting, said yesterday, "With regard to his involvement in the Tauris Johnson murder, Nathaniel Dawson will go to trial." He would not elaborate.

Asked if he dropped the murder charges as part of a legal strategy linked to federal prosecution of Dawson in a cocaine conspiracy case, Mr. Simms said: "I don't think anyone should infer anything. At the appropriate time, I will have more to say."

There is a precedent for introducing evidence of violent behavior in federal drug trials, which can bring sentences comparable to those in a state murder trial.

Still, word that the state's murder case had been dropped plunged Tauris Johnson's family into despair. His sister, 14-year-old Precious Johnson, said their father, William Morton, broke down when he told the family.

"My father told me Saturday," Precious said last night. "He didn't really explain it -- all he said was they dropped the charges and he started crying."

Tauris was playing football near his East Baltimore home on Nov. 4 when, according to police, he was caught in the cross-fire between warring drug dealers. As a black car sped down Regester Street, a passenger fired a semiautomatic handgun. From the sidewalk, another man fired back. Tauris was struck once in the head.

In February, a witness in the case, Latisha Regina Murphy, was shot twice in the face at point-blank range. The 34-year-old East Baltimore woman once ran a "stash" house for Dawson and was scheduled to testify against him.

At the time, police said her death would not derail the case against Dawson, a paroled New York drug dealer.

Tauris was one of 353 people slain in the city last year -- a record death toll from homicide. Several other children died, and a nun was killed. But the death of young Tauris became emblematic of drug-related violence on Baltimore's streets.

A month after Tauris was killed, Dawson, 24, was arrested at a Bronx apartment. Police and federal agents said they seized 3 pounds each of cocaine and marijuana, as well as an arsenal of weapons -- including 11 handguns, a sawed-off shotgun and 3,000 rounds of ammunition.

They said they also found more than 1,000 empty crack vials and a plastic "Freddy Krueger" horror movie mask, believed to have been used in an undisclosed crime. Dawson was brought to Baltimore on Dec. 28 and remained in the city detention center last night.

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