When justice finally was done for John Doe, no family members came to the courtroom to see his killer sentenced to eight years in prison. No one stood to tell Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe yesterday how they grieved for the young man who died from two stab wounds to the chest, surrounded by about 15 adversaries on a South Baltimore street.
That's because two years after his death, no one has been able to figure out the name of the man who died that night. Not even Brian K. Abrams, 25, who yesterday pleaded guilty to manslaughter with the victim's knife.
Homicide victims often are difficult to identify; sometimes their remains languish unclaimed for years. But it is rare that suspects are arrested, convicted and sentenced while the person killed is still unknown.
"There's no victim's family to be heard from," Judge Bothe said as she imposed the sentence. "I'm sure he had one. It's a terrible way to die."
Abrams and John Doe collided in the early morning of April 8, 1993, after a continuing confrontation between the victim and a group of South Baltimore youths.
According to prosecutor Gary D. Schenker, the confrontation began on Fort Avenue near the Locust Point marine terminals when several youths in a car began trading words with the victim, who was on foot. A number of other young men joined the confrontation, chasing the victim to the 1400 block of Key Highway.
Abrams drove to the scene with another man and joined the fray, Mr. Schenker said. He picked up a knife the victim had dropped, stabbed him in the chest and ran to the car. The unidentified man died about a half-hour later at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center without regaining consciousness.
Baltimore homicide Detective Donald Steinhice has been trying to learn the man's name since the slaying.
The victim was black, apparently in his late teens or 20s, about 6-foot-1 and weighing 169 pounds. He had short hair and brown eyes, and wore a three-quarter-length olive coat, a blue and yellow striped shirt, a black T-shirt, blue jeans and white tennis shoes.
Police did not find identification on the victim. His fingerprints have turned up no information that would give a clue to who he was. Detective Steinhice has checked with the Coast Guard on the theory that the man was a seaman, and combed FBI and state police databases with no success.
Now that prosecutors no longer need to worry about publicity tainting potential jurors in the case, Detective Steinhice said he will renew efforts to find the man through the news media.
Abrams could not shed any light on the man whose life he took. "I've never seen the man before," he said yesterday.
Two identical twin brothers initially were charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the man's death with Abrams. But murder charges were dropped after several eyewitnesses said they saw Abrams stab the victim. Mr. Schenker said the twins, 17 at the time, faced other charges related to the incident in juvenile court; those proceedings are kept secret under state confidentiality laws.
The victim was black, and those who were chasing him white. Abrams told the judge the altercation was not racially motivated, but he did not explain what started it. "It was a messed-up situation," he said.
"I didn't mean to do it," Abrams, a construction worker with no adult criminal record, told the judge yesterday. "I'm sorry for it. I was just trying to get him away from me."
The judge sentenced him to eight years instead of the 10 requested by Mr. Schenker, after commenting that she felt others involved in the confrontation also had responsibility in the unknown man's death.