Accused stepfather got, lost dream job He was hurt while working as trooper

April 01, 1997|By Caitlin Francke and Jill Hudson | Caitlin Francke and Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

Three weeks after James M. Harding Jr. fulfilled his dream of wearing a Maryland State Police badge, he stopped to help a stranded motorist. Friends say the grisly accident that followed forever altered his life.

Now accused of murdering his stepson, Harding has traveled from one side of the law to the other in the four years since that accident.

And Marine Cpl. Andre D. Boone, who had just been named to an elite Marine Corps post guarding the White House, has gone from his family's rising star to its buried hope.

Yesterday -- as Harding sat in a jail cell only a few miles away -- Boone was eulogized at an emotional ceremony in the North Laurel-area town of Guilford. Hundreds of people packed the the First Baptist Church of Guilford. Many talked of Boone as a man with a sense of destiny and purpose.

"What is happening to our African-American men who are being struck down in their prime, in their youth?" the Rev. John Wright asked. "Andre was a Marine. He was not out on the street corner selling drugs or smoking crack. This is a tragedy."

More than 50 members of the Marine Corps' Alpha Company, dressed in green uniforms, sat solemnly in the first six rows of the wooden pews. In front of them was a large U.S. flag draped over the large silver casket that was destined for Arlington National Cemetery.

"Andre was someone you just knew you could count on," said Christine McCauley, his former girlfriend. "I used to call him 'Superman' because he thought he was a superhero, that nothing could harm him."

While Boone's parents and relatives sat in the church, his stepfather was being held without bail at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup awaiting trial on a murder charge. He was arrested March 21 at his east Columbia home in Kings Contrivance village when Boone was found dead of a shotgun wound in the house.

The last few years have not been easy for Harding, friends and former co-workers say.

In February 1993, when he had just begun working for the state police, Harding was setting up flares around a disabled car stopped in the fast lane of the Washington beltway when he was hit by a car. Pinned under the vehicle, he was dragged 68 feet along the pavement.

"The car had literally to be lifted off him," said Capt. William Arrington, former commander of the Forestville Barracks in Prince George's County, where Harding worked.

With serious injuries to his leg and head, Harding never returned to work at the barracks, Arrington said.

Harding spent about two months in two hospitals. Perhaps the only sign he ever worked for the state police was a $364 disability check he received every week until November 1994.

Carl Shrieves, captain of security for Bowie Race Course, said his longtime friend was devastated when he no longer could perform his job.

"You know, some kids growing up want to be a lawyer or a military policeman," Shrieves said. "Just think, you finally attain that dream and you enjoy that dream for three weeks and it is over.

"Does it have an effect? Yes," Shrieves said.

Harding may have been frustrated by the loss of his job, but it is unclear whether he received brain damage in the accident, as some contend. His former barracks commander, who visited him in the hospital, said Harding had a brain injury, but Arrington did not know its severity.

Harding -- who wore a brace on his severely fractured leg for some time after his release from the hospital -- did receive disability payments after the accident, but state police officials would not release the cause of the payments.

Eighteen months after he was hired -- without a day back on the street -- Harding was fired from his job, in part because of his mental state, said Arrington, who is an officer in field operations at state police headquarters in Pikesville.

"Because of his injuries he just couldn't do" the job, Arrington said, though he added that turmoil in his domestic life was the ultimate reason for his dismissal.

Harding was different after the accident, some say. Quiet and reserved before, he became prone to long-windedness, which sometimes dissolved into seeming babble, according to Arrington.

"After the accident, you just couldn't stop the guy from talking. He just went on and on," Arrington said.

Other friends and co-workers say Harding made a remarkable recovery after the accident. They strongly dispute the notion that Harding's mental capacity was affected.

"Many people didn't expect him to live after that accident, and a year later, he had no physical problems at all," said Vincent Callaway, director of security at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, where Harding worked. "The only scar he came away with was a little one on his forehead."

Harding left the Howard County Police Academy just before graduation in 1989 to take the job at Perkins.

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