In an unusual move, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has announced that it will reconsider an opinion that upheld the conviction of Nathaniel Hurt for fatally shooting a 13-year-old boy in 1994.
It was unclear yesterday what impact the court's action might have on the fate of Hurt, who has been free on bail but was on the verge of going to prison at the age of 63 for the shooting of Vernon Lee Holmes Jr.
The court granted a motion from Hurt's lawyer, Stephen L. Miles, to reconsider the March 25 opinion of a three-judge appellate panel, which ruled that Hurt was lawfully convicted of involuntary manslaughter and using a handgun to commit a felony.
Moments before the jury verdicts in April 1995, Hurt had turned down a plea agreement that would have spared him incarceration. The handgun conviction carries a mandatory five years in prison without parole.
Hurt has been free on $200,000 bail since June 12, when Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller gave him the five-year term. With the appellate court denial of his appeal, he was poised to go to prison.
Yesterday, standing next to his fire escape in the 800 block of E. North Ave., where he fired his gun that night, Hurt was hopeful about the court's reconsideration. "I'm happy because I feel something good coming out of this," he said. "Legally, I don't know what it means."
His good fortune may be temporary. Leslie Gradet, clerk of the Court of Special Appeals, said yesterday that a new opinion was expected "shortly" and that the court would hear no further argument before issuing it. In the order rescinding the appellate court's opinion, the court did not comment on its action.
Assistant Attorney General Gary E. Bair, head of the criminal appellate division, was unsure how to interpret the court's action. "Until we see the new opinion, it's hard to know what it means," he said. "It doesn't mean necessarily that they are going to change their rulings."
On the night of Oct. 10, 1994, Hurt fired four shots from a .357-caliber Magnum handgun into a crowd of youths who had been vandalizing his 1983 Chevrolet Caprice. Afterward, young Vernon lay dead from a bullet to the back.
Hurt testified that the youths had been harassing him for more than a month and that he was aiming the gun over their heads to chase them away.
In its original opinion, the appellate court seemed to conclude that Hurt had admitted, through his testimony, that he had killed Vernon, so the issue of whether any errors made during the trial were serious enough to overturn the conviction was moot, Miles said.
Miles asked the court to reconsider, saying the opinion appeared to be based on a faulty understanding of his defense.
Hurt admitted firing four shots that night, but he never said he fired the shot that killed the boy, Miles said. In fact, Miles suggested at the trial that someone else might have fired shots on the street that night. The bullet that hit Vernon was never recovered.
"In their original opinion, they said that even if I was right on every point, it didn't matter," Miles said yesterday.
Although Hurt said yesterday that "nobody wants to go to jail," he also said he was tired of riding out the twists and turns of his legal battles:
"It just gets on my nerves. The waiting game. The waiting game."
Pub Date: 5/07/96