Trial begins latest chapter in troubled lives

September 17, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

After his best friend was drowned, after a younger brother was sexually molested, after his own father had basically disappeared from his life, 10-year-old Jimmy Wells had three wishes:

"A big pot of gold, two freezers of ice cream," and that "everybody in the whole world would not fight anymore and be friends," he told a counselor in a psychological evaluation.

Eight years later, James Wells, his 44-year-old uncle and three other teen-agers stand accused in the attempted murder of one of his neighbors. A trial scheduled to begin tomorrow is the latest chapter in several troubled lives.

Prosecutors say Mr. Wells and the others wished not for peace on earth, but revenge.

They are charged with conspiring to build a bomb that maimed an elderly man outside his Butchers Hill home in November after the man's son had called police about a loud party and a broken car window.

Defense attorneys used details of the younger men's lives to argue that they should be tried as juveniles, court records show. In a series of hearings, the lawyers argued that the teen-agers could benefit from the treatment philosophy that drives the juvenile system.

But Mr. Wells, 18, and neighbor Michael Williams, 17, will be tried as adults, meaning they could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. Both have spent the past 10 months in the Baltimore City Detention Center, held without bail.

Mr. Wells' brother Joseph, 17, and the Williams youth's 16-year-old cousin, James Bynaker, have been charged in juvenile court, where proceedings are closed.

Police say the Wells brothers' uncle played the "main role" in building the bomb. Ronald Goldstein is charged with first-degree attempted murder, manufacturing a pipe bomb and reckless endangerment.

But relatives and lawyers for those charged say that whatever the teen-agers' difficulties or past skirmishes with the law, they are wrongly accused in this case.

"It's torn up everybody's lives," said Mr. Goldstein, who is free after posting $250,000 bail. "I know I didn't have anything to do with it, and Jimmy didn't have anything to do with it."

Charging documents and investigators give this description of the bombing.

The teen-agers were part of the "Mail Box Boys," a group so named because they liked to hang out next to a mailbox on Gough Street, several blocks from the 2100 block of E. Lombard St. There the Wells brothers lived across the street from Frank Busnuk and his son, Paul.

Neighbors complained that the group was responsible for vandalism in the area, that the teen-agers made too much noise too late at night. In mid-November, Paul Busnuk told police that he knew who was responsible for a broken car window, causing some of the neighborhood youths to threaten to blow up his house and car.

The next day, a group of youths and Mr. Goldstein are alleged to have constructed a bomb by filling a mayonnaise jar with an explosive material, then rigging the jar inside a metal can. James Wells is alleged to have taken the device to East Baltimore and given it to someone else. The Williams youth, the documents say, placed the can on top of Paul Busnuk's silver Thunderbird about 4:30 a.m. Nov. 18.

About five minutes later, Frank Busnuk, 73, walked out of the house and tried to take the can off the car.

The explosion could be heard blocks away. Neighbors rushed out to find Mr. Busnuk yelling in pain on the steps of his Formstone rowhouse. His face and chest were burned badly. His left hand and part of his right were gone. Blood was everywhere.

The retired steel worker spent months in the hospital. Now that he is home, he seldom ventures outdoors, said neighbor Harry Rager.

"It's just too bad it had to happen to somebody like him," Mr. Rager said. "They [the Busnuks] never bothered anybody."

Court records indicate that defense attorneys will dispute this account by attacking the credibility of Joseph Wells, who is listed as a prosecution witness.

"Counsel has already initiated some investigation which shows that the witness against the defendant has severe mental problems, suffers from delusions, is not a trustworthy individual, and his testimony is seriously impaired," defense attorney Howard Cardin, who represents Mr. Goldstein, wrote in court papers.

'It's like no mother, no father'

Young Williams was no stranger to the juvenile courts. Twice he had been placed on probation for malicious destruction and theft. According to a Department of Juvenile Justice report, he did not complete community service or a GED program ordered by a juvenile court master.

Nine months before the explosion, an accident in a stolen car in which he was riding fractured his cheekbone and arm, and resulted in 40 staples being put in his head. After that, he reportedly told court medical officer Dr. Anne Hanson, he decided to stop stealing cars.

"He has been offered treatment alternatives . . . but unfortunately he has not cooperated with or benefited from these," Dr. Hanson wrote in an evaluation.

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