Jury deliberates 6 hours in Hurt case no verdict

April 11, 1995|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore jury deciding the fate of Nathaniel Hurt, the 62-year-old East Baltimore man charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old boy, is to resume deliberations this morning after failing to reach a verdict last night.

About 7 p.m., Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller dismissed the jury after nearly six hours of sometimes stormy deliberations.

While the jury was assessing evidence, shouting could be heard in the jury room. The nature of the disputes could not be determined.

Neither Mr. Hurt nor his defense attorney, Stephen L. Miles, had any comment as they left the courthouse.

Mr. Hurt is charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 10, 1994, fatal shooting of Vernon Lee Holmes Jr. During the trial, Mr. Hurt testified that the Holmes youth and other neighborhood boys had tormented him for weeks with threats and had persistently vandalized his property. He said he fired warning shots from his second-story fire escape to fend off an approaching mob the night the boy was killed.

Other charges

He also is charged with using a handgun in a crime of violence, 00TC charge that carries a minimum, mandatory sentence of five years in prison without parole.

The case went to the jury just before 1 p.m. yesterday, after more than two hours of emotional closing arguments by lawyers.

Prosecutor Mark Cohen asked the jury to set aside any sympathy they might have for the retired janitor and deliver guilty verdicts that would send a message that citizens cannot take the law into their own hands.

"What gives this defendant the right to shoot someone unarmed in the back?" Mr. Cohen asked. "I don't care how much those kids were bugging him."

Mr. Cohen said the defendant's claims that he was acting in self-defense do not hold up because he had the opportunity -- and the legal duty -- to retreat into his house instead of firing four shots from his fire escape.

Argument belittled

The prosecutor also belittled the defense argument that Mr. Hurt's behavior was shaped by fears that come with living in a high-crime area of the inner city. "Everybody wants an excuse for what they do," the prosecutor said.

Mr. Cohen also suggested that Mr. Hurt lied in parts of his testimony to support his contention that he was defending himself from an imminent attack. The prosecutor contended that Mr. Hurt fired because he was angry that his car was being vandalized.

Mr. Miles argued -- loudly at times -- that Baltimore police had botched their investigation. He said police were determined to make Mr. Hurt a scapegoat for the Police Department's inability to protect residents from marauding juvenile delinquents.

Of the victim and his young friends, Mr. Miles said: "Age has nothing to do with it. Terrorism is terrorism."

He said that a hole found in a basement wall of an East Baltimore woman's home near the shooting scene proved that another person fired shots at the time of the slaying. He mocked the militaristic demeanor of a police weapons expert who said the hole was actually a drill hole. Mr. Miles derisively called Lt. Charles J. Key "generalissimo" and at one point said, "Sieg heil."

Self-defense claimed

Mr. Miles urged the jury to accept that Mr. Hurt was acting in self-defense and find him not guilty of all charges.

Near the end of his address, Mr. Miles placed his hand on Mr. Hurt's back. He called the defendant the very definition of dignity, and Mr. Hurt removed his glasses and wiped tears from his eyes.

The jury had been deliberating for a little more than an hour yesterday when shouting was heard from the jury room.

About 3 p.m., the panel sent a note asking to see Mr. Hurt's .357-caliber Magnum revolver, which prosecutors say was used to kill the Holmes boy. The jury also asked Judge Heller to again outline elements needed to prove the charges against Mr. Hurt.

Judge Heller described the law as it applies to first-degree and second-degree murder, and to voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Later, the jury asked for further clarification on the elements of "depraved heart" second-degree murder. The judge defined that crime as one in which a person needs not intend to kill anyone, but merely acts in "extreme disregard" for human life despite being conscious of the risks.

Clarification sought

Later, the jury asked for a clarification of the law on involuntary manslaughter. The judge told jurors that for them to find Mr. Hurt guilty of that charge, they must determine that he fired the fatal shot.

Terry Huff, an alternate juror who remained in the courtroom to see the trial's outcome, said jurors might be coming around to his way of thinking -- that prosecutors failed to prove Mr. Hurt fired the fatal shot. Mr. Huff said he would have found the defendant not guilty of all charges.

Mr. Huff, 38, of East Baltimore also accepted Mr. Hurt's self-defense argument. He said the boys in the neighborhood had started the problems with their harassment.

"The mitigating factor that takes over everything is he is not the aggressor," Mr. Huff said.

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