Hurt is home after 14 months Governor ordered release of man who killed teen in '94

January 07, 1998|By Ivan Penn and JoAnna Daemmrich | Ivan Penn and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Dan Fesperman contributed to this article.

Ending a case that sparked national debate about crime and out-of-control youth, the East Baltimore man who was convicted of fatally shooting a city teen-ager in 1994 returned to his home yesterday, greeted by a handful of well-wishers and no protest.

Nathaniel Hurt was released yesterday under an executive order issued by Gov. Parris N. Glendening after serving 14 months of a mandatory five-year sentence for the fatal shooting of Vernon Lee Holmes Jr., 13, in October 1994.

Dressed in a gray sweat shirt, blue slacks and a baseball cap, Hurt, 64, walked out of Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup about 10: 10 a.m. with his lawyer and a correctional officer by his side.

"I'm happy to be out," Hurt said after embracing his son, Leroy Hurt, 46, outside the gate of the prison. "Thank God I'm out."

Hurt, a longtime Bethlehem Steel employee, was convicted in 1995 of involuntary manslaughter and a handgun offense. Hurt fired a handgun from his North Avenue rowhouse Oct. 10, 1994, to ward off a group of youths he said were vandalizing his car. One of the four shots struck and killed Vernon.

Glendening, who announced Dec. 23 that he would issue the commutation order, described Hurt yesterday as deeply remorseful and expressed hope that he would find peace by helping other youth in the city.

"This is a tragic, difficult circumstance for everyone," Glendening said. "A young man, a boy, is dead. An old man's life is ruined. If anything comes from this, I hope it will be a reflection on having guns around."

As a condition of Hurt's freedom, Glendening is requiring him to move out of his East Baltimore neighborhood, where he has lived much of his last 40 years.

Avoiding conflict

The governor's goal is "to avoid any possibility of any further tension or problem in the neighborhood," said Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Glendening.

"There was a concern that with Mr. Hurt moving into the same home and same neighborhood, it could raise concerns on the part of some people in the community who were upset about young Mr. Holmes' death," Feldmann said.

The state also prohibits Hurt from owning a firearm, which he had for 20 years before the 1994 shooting.

Hurt said he is willing to sell or rent his home in the 800 block of E. North Ave, and find a new home. He said he wants to put the experience behind him.

"It was an accident," Hurt said during an interview after leaving the prison. "It's just a situation that I never want to get in again. I keep asking myself, why me? I don't bother nobody."

During his 14 months in prison, Hurt said he pondered the events that night in October 1994 over and over. Prison life made the memory worse, he said.

Bad food

"For one thing, I have more respect for correction officers," Hurt said. "The abuse, the verbal abuse that they go through is unimaginable. Oh! That food. Whew! The food wasn't fit for a pig."

Hurt spent most of his sentence as a maintenance worker at the Central Laundry Correctional Facility in Sykesville. After the governor announced plans to commute Hurt's sentence, he was placed immediately in protective custody and moved to Brockbridge Correctional Facility, a 651-bed unit for the Maryland Correctional Pre-Release System.

During the weeks leading to his release, Hurt was restricted to his cell. Prison officials would not say why he was locked down, other than that it was not for disciplinary reasons.

Inmates upset

Hurt said some inmates appeared to be angered by the governor's decision. He said some at the Brockbridge prison would say, " 'You killed a little boy, you did this, you did that. I didn't kill nobody and you ain't doing but 14 months.' "

The weeks before Glendening signed the release papers were some of the hardest, Hurt said. He went three weeks without a shower. Because he was on lockdown, Hurt said he had to wait until other inmates finished their showers -- by then the water was cold.

During the hours before his release, Hurt said, he had trouble sleeping and didn't eat his last meal, a scrambled egg and cheese breakfast. "I kept thinking, is he going to sign or what is he going to do?"

At 9: 30 a.m. yesterday, Stephen L. Miles, Hurt's lawyer, got the call from the governor's office saying the order was official. Miles said he was relieved and maintains that Hurt should never have gone to jail.

"This case represented to me everything bad about the judicial system," said Miles, who defended Hurt for free but was criticized for failing to persuade Hurt and his son to accept a plea agreement that would have kept the man out of prison.

After a brief stop at his office, Miles drove Hurt home with his son and a family friend. Awaiting their arrival was a handful of neighbors and well-wishers who welcomed Hurt back to the neighborhood.

Neighbors

"Glad to see you out, Mr. Hurt!" shouted Francis Waller, a neighbor who has known Hurt for eight years. "I just don't understand why he's got to move," Waller said in an interview.

Hurt smiled as he arrived home, hugging friends and relatives. Now that he is out of prison, he said, he is ready to resume his life.

The first thing he said he was going to do was "take me a shower, then go to the barbershop. Then I've got to get my [driver's] license. Then I've got to go to Social Security."

"I've got it all written down so I won't forget it."

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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