Jury convicts man in slaying of minister Stabbing occurred day before Christmas in dispute over cocaine

December 16, 1995|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

A Harford County man was convicted yesterday of fatally stabbing and robbing a Middle River minister last Christmas Eve in a dispute over their use of crack cocaine.

A Baltimore County Circuit Court jury of six men and six women took about an hour and a half to find James Thomas Wood, 25, of Abingdon guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and robbery with a deadly weapon. He faces a maximum term of life without parole plus 20 years in prison when Judge Christian M. Kahl sentences him Feb. 16.

Last Dec. 23, Wood and the Rev. Samuel N. Booth Jr., 55 -- who lived alone in a trailer behind Christian Faith Tabernacle Church on Middle River Road -- consumed more than two dozen bags of crack cocaine and spent the night in a motel together, according to testimony. The next morning, they split what drugs remained and parted, agreeing to meet later and smoke the rest.

Wood returned to the trailer early in the afternoon, but Mr. Booth asked him to leave because Mr. Booth wanted to prepare for that night's services. Wood stabbed him 14 times and cut his throat with a knife found in the kitchen, according to testimony.

"He wasn't going to give me any more," Wood told Tfc. Jeffrey Eichorn of the Maryland State Police in a Christmas confession.

On a tape of the confession, Wood said: "I got mad. I wanted it so bad. I started hitting on him. I went over and grabbed a knife from the kitchen, and I cut him."

He also said, in a voice cracking with emotion, that he grabbed the minister by the throat, threw him down and kicked him in the head and stomach. He said he took about $77 from Mr. Booth's wallet and several packets of crack cocaine from the trailer.

With the confession as part of the trial that began Monday, jurors still had to decide whether Wood met the legal standard for intent.

Assistant State's Attorney James O'C. Gentry Jr. told jurors in his closing argument that Wood decided to kill Mr. Booth when Wood was refused the drug. Mr. Gentry dismissed as a "fairy tale" Wood's testimony that he was under the influence of cocaine minutes before the slaying.

Dr. Michael Spodak, a Towson psychiatrist who interviewed Wood, testified that Wood was able to behave in a clear, goal-directed manner after the stabbing. Wood had the presence of mind to take Mr. Booth's wallet from his pocket, find cocaine hidden in the shower rod, drive away in search of more crack and change his bloody clothes -- all of which suggested that cocaine was not influencing his behavior, he said.

Mr. Gentry branded as "ridiculous" Wood's claim that the stabbing was provoked after the minister made a homosexual advance.

Wood testified that he was upset about the alleged advance, but that he was too embarrassed to mention it to police.

Defense attorney J. David Ash blamed the slaying on Wood's years of drug abuse. "The culmination of all his addictions is what brings him before you today," he said.

He told jurors that Wood began sniffing paint thinner at age 11 and had used marijuana and cocaine since his teens. When the slaying occurred, he said, Wood was "crazy, he was in a rage, he was intoxicated to the extent that he didn't know what he was doing."

Wood remained stoic when the verdict was read. His mother, Joyce Wood, whispered, "Oh, dear Jesus."

Outside the courtroom, Mrs. Wood said it was unfair there was no discussion of her son's good character when he was not using drugs. "Crack cocaine ruined two good families here," she said.

Stephen Booth, 32, of Edgewood, the victim's son, said Wood had a "sickness" that prison would not necessarily correct. "I had no predetermined wish" that Wood be convicted, he said.

Then he shook hands with Wood's brother Joseph, 24, touched the back of Mrs. Wood's shoulder and whispered, "Sorry."

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