Man receives life term in 1994 slaying City youth, 17, was shot in an argument over $8

May 30, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Moments after he was convicted of murder, was stared down by the victim's mother and was sentenced to life plus 20 years, Robert Denny professed his innocence and left Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday -- smiling.

"I am a born-again Christian, and the Lord will get me through this," Denny said.

His attitude infuriated the relatives of 17-year-old Kenyatta Johnson, who was gunned down on a Baltimore street corner nearly three years ago in an argument over $8.

"Your parents still have their son," Michelle Stokes, the victim's aunt, shouted at Denny in Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr.'s courtroom.

Denny, 20, of the 1200 block of N. Patterson Park Ave. was convicted of first-degree murder and a handgun violation by a jury that listened to four days of testimony, then took an hour to decide that he shot Johnson in the 2300 block of E. Biddle St. at point-blank range shortly before 11 p.m. Aug. 5, 1994.

Denny shot Johnson once in the chest and stood over his body and pumped three more bullets into him before fleeing into a neighborhood too afraid to help police find the killer, said William L. Mathis, an assistant state's attorney.

"You heard the witnesses say, 'We have to live in this neighborhood.' We ain't living no more, we're surviving," Mathis told jurors.

The murder went unsolved for seven months until Richard Price, a self-described recovering heroin addict, was arrested on theft charges and identified Denny as the killer, Mathis said.

Price's story was consistent with an account from Leonard Cooper, who told police that he "got a glimpse of" a man fleeing the scene who looked like Denny.

The prosecutor emphasized to jurors that Price knew Denny and did not know that Cooper had tentatively identified Denny as the killer.

"It ain't so dark that you can't make out who it is, especially when you know the person," Mathis said, showing jurors a color photograph of the crime scene.

Denny agreed to be sentenced immediately after conviction.

That meant a brief hearing, in which the victim's mother told McCurdy how the slaying had ruined her life.

"You meant to kill my child, you meant to kill my child," Rhonda Johnson told Denny, looking at him across a trial table in a tense, packed courtroom.

Johnson, who keeps a photograph of her son on her key chain, said later that she had worked two jobs to buy a home in Gardenville and to put her son through St. Elizabeth's, a Catholic school, because teachers said he was particularly bright.

But, she said, he fell in with the wrong crowd and just a month before the slaying began spending time in the neighborhood where he was killed.

It didn't surprise her, she said, when police told her that he might have been selling drugs at the time of the slaying.

"I know he was no angel, but he never deserved to die like this," Johnson said.

She said that she cannot believe testimony that her son died during an argument with Denny over $8. She said the mystery of why her son died haunts her.

"What could he possibly have done to make someone so angry at him?" Johnson said.

Pub Date: 5/30/97

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