Suspects in pizza driver's slaying denied bond

August 16, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Saying they are "dangers to the community," a judge denied bail yesterday for two suspects charged with shooting a pizza delivery man to death during a botched robbery in Northwest Baltimore last week.

Judge Joseph A. Ciotola ordered the suspects held without bail during a bail review hearing at the Wabash Avenue District Court. Judge Ciotola, the retired administrative judge of the District Court in Baltimore, set a Sept. 13 trial date for the suspects.

Samuel Small, 17, of the 3000 block of Virginia Ave. and Joseph Benjamin, 23, of the 2700 block of Virginia Ave. face charges of first-degree murder, a handgun violation and attempted assault and robbery in connection with the slaying. The Small youth was charged as an adult.

The suspects were charged with killing Igor Berenshteyn, 23, on Wednesday in the 2700 block of Virginia Ave.

Mr. Berenshteyn, a Russian immigrant who settled in the Baltimore area about 18 months ago, was slain while delivering a pizza, police said.

Charging documents allege that Mr. Berenshteyn was confronted by the Small youth and two other males, "one with the possible name of Joe." The third suspect was not apprehended and is being sought by police.

The charging documents give the following account of the slaying:

"Joe had a gun pointed at the victim while the defendant [the Small youth] stood behind the victim. The victim produced a knife and was waving it in the air as he attempted to flee to his auto.

"Joe fired two shots at the victim with a .380 pistol, one of the bullets struck the [victim's] vehicle and the other struck the victim in the left side."

Sam Ringgold, a city police spokesman, said Mr. Benjamin confessed to the slaying during an interview with a local TV station.

Mr. Ringgold said approximately $455 in cash was found in Mr. Berenshteyn's car, a 1991 Nissan. Police found him sitting behind the wheel of the vehicle about 6:30 p.m. and he was pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital a short time later.

Yesterday, the Small youth and Mr. Benjamin came into the courtroom handcuffed to nine other men.

The teen-ager's mother, Regina Harper, 41, gasped when the judge read the charges and said no bail would be set. She sat in the back of the small courtroom with other friends and family members. After the hearing, she told a reporter that she had retained an attorney to defend her son.

"I know he's innocent. I don't think it, I know it," she said. "I thought about the victim's mother. I hurt for Sammy, because TC know he didn't shoot the guy."

The slaying has left the victim's mother wondering about her decision to come to the United States. Her son did not want to leave Russia, but she persuaded him to leave in search of a better life.

"What is the philosophy in this country?" the victim's mother, Faina Vaynerman asked yesterday. "If you have to give the robber everything they want, and that's the only thing to save his life?"

In Mrs. Vaynerman's small apartment, a white sheet covered a mirror in the front hall, a white candle burned in the kitchen, and several flower arrangements and a picture of Mr. Berenshteyn were displayed in the living room.

She said she was glad that the suspects were held without bail. "I think that's right. There's no other way," she said.

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