Facing a murderer, and her past Slain 10-year-old's mother gets her wish after 16 years

October 04, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Nearly every day, Chessa LeAnne Barnett sat in the courtroom, clutching the small pink and orange plaid shirt that her son, Adam, treasured before he was murdered 16 years ago.

The 10-year-old boy called the shirt "my precious" after the magic ring in the J. R. R. Tolkien book "The Hobbit." While Adam slept, his mother would sneak into his room to retrieve and wash it. As Adam's killer, Roger Stump, was finally being tried, the carefully pressed shirt seemed to bring Barnett comfort even as she endured the raw details about the last moments of her son's life.

"Emotionally I'm back 16 years ago, but I had to be here," she said as she awaited a verdict last week. "I fought Adam's battles for him for the 10 years he lived. I was going to see this through."

On Friday, after a five-day trial and seven hours of deliberation, a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury convicted Stump of second-degree murder.

Barnett had waited a long time for the chance to look down from the witness stand at Roger Stump, a white Middle River man who was 17 when Adam was murdered in 1982.

"I always believed that someday I was going to come face-to-face with the person who killed Adam," she said. "I have known his name for 15 years."

Indeed, in the east-side neighborhood of Hawthorne, Roger Stump's name was connected to Adam Faulkner's murder for more than a decade. Witnesses, who refused to talk when they were teen-agers in the 1980s, came forward years later. And it took Baltimore County police years to charge Stump with the racially motivated strangling of the boy at the edge of Middle River in the dark morning hours of June 29.

But Barnett believes there was another reason for the long delay.

"I really believe nobody cared, because Adam was biracial," said Barnett, who is white. Adam's father, who is African-American, was divorced from Barnett when Adam was 1 year old.

In the years before Adam died, she said she had seen racism repeatedly in their eastern Baltimore County community.

"I can't tell you how many times he came home and people called him a zebra," she said.

"He lived 10 years, five months and seven days. In my heart I believe [Stump] still thinks Adam didn't deserve to live because he was biracial."

For years, Barnett held hope that Stump would someday be arrested. Even after she moved her other three children to Oklahoma, she stayed in touch with county police every year.

For her, the wait was excruciating.

An excruciating wait

"There are no words. You function. You go on automatic pilot," said Barnett, a handsome woman with a strong, angular face that dissolves into tears and wrinkles when she talks of her son's murder.

Before Adam died, she tried to protect the child and his younger brother Marcus -- also biracial -- from bigoted comments.

"I was a protective mother before he died. After he died I was obsessed," she said. "Until Marcus started high school, I walked him to the bus and I met him at the bus every day. None of my children was ever alone."

"We didn't have many friends," she said. After Adam died, "we made our own world."

During the trial, Adam was portrayed as a sensitive boy who "wore his heart on his sleeve" and ran away from home on a number of occasions after having his feelings hurt by racial slurs, or after fighting with his stepfather. Often, he was locked in his room to prevent him from leaving.

The night before Adam died, after arguing with his stepfather, he ran away from home with his fishing pole and bicycle and a comforter from his bed. Stump's attorney, Harold I. Glaser, described Adam's life as "tragic," suggesting that his stepfather may have been responsible for his death.

But Barnett remembers a different side of her oldest son.

"He was a genius. He had an IQ in excess of 180," she said of the boy with tan skin who left her notes with smiley faces saying, "I love you mommy."

"He could draw a whole room in perfect dimension when he was in kindergarten. What a loss."

Of Roger Stump and his brother, John, who was convicted in July of accessory after the fact of murder for helping submerge Adam's body in Middle River, she said:

"They didn't just take Adam from me, they took him from the world. I have no doubt he would have grown up to be a great man."

An emotional toll

The trial took an emotional, yet necessary, toll, she said.

With tears covering her cheeks, Barnett recalled the testimony by Roger Stump's girlfriend about his confession to her 10 years after the murder. It was then Barnett learned about Adam's final confrontation with racism, as Stump flung a racial slur at the child as he cried out, "I want my mommy."

"That was one fight I wasn't there to fight for him," his mother said.

During a break in the trial last week, Barnett went back to Middle River in Hawthorne and tossed red, blue and purple flowers along the water where Adam died.

On her way there she saw two little children, a black boy and a white girl playing together with a wagon.

"I thought, 'At least children can play together now,' " she said. "When Adam played down there it would never have happened. If people could only see. No one deserves that amount of hate."

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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