Man who fatally shot teen vandalizing his car is ordered into prison Appeals court issues order in case of Nathaniel Hurt

March 26, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Nathaniel Hurt, convicted of fatally shooting a teen-ager who was vandalizing his car, must begin serving five years in prison because state law requires it as a minimum penalty for handgun convictions, a state appeals court said.

The Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday that Hurt must serve the sentence imposed by Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller because he was convicted of using a handgun in the commission of a felony, which carries a mandatory five years.

Hurt, 63, also was sentenced June 12 to a concurrent three years for involuntary manslaughter.

"Under all the circumstances, Judge Heller had no option," a three-judge panel wrote yesterday.

The ruling means that Hurt, free on $200,000 bond pending the appeal, must begin serving his sentence after the Baltimore Circuit Court is formally notified of the ruling in the next 30 days, said prosecutor Mark P. Cohen.

Hurt was convicted by a jury -- moments after he turned down a plea agreement that would have spared him prison -- for firing a .357-caliber Magnum into a crowd of youths who had been vandalizing his 1983 Chevrolet Caprice on Oct. 10, 1994.

Vernon Lee Holmes Jr., 13, was shot in the back.

The case became a referendum on urban violence, filling radio talk shows and newspaper columns with debate over who deserved sympathy and condemnation.

Hurt admitted in testimony to firing four shots from his second-story fire escape in the 800 block of E. North Ave. But he said he was trying to fire over the youths' heads to disperse them and that they had been harassing him for more than a month.

The appeals court yesterday said Hurt's admission was enough to convict him of both charges. He had been tried on first-degree murder charges.

"The verdict was self-evidently the most favorable and the most sympathetic that the appellant could possibly have hoped for," the court said.

The three judges expressed sympathy for Hurt, noting that he worked 23 years at Bethlehem Steel, gave away barbecue in his back yard each summer, tried to prevent youths from harassing passers-by and cleaned up trash each day from the East Baltimore street where he lived.

"He was a good and decent man who was pushed beyond his breaking point, and he reacted," the court wrote in an unsigned, unpublished opinion.

But Mr. Cohen yesterday was less sympathetic, saying Hurt deserved to go to prison. "The testimony was that these youths were throwing rocks at Mr. Hurt's car, they weren't threatening his person in any way," Mr. Cohen said.

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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