1 convicted, 1 pleads guilty in assault

Boy, 13, was struck on head by large rock while riding in minivan

November 23, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A 19-year-old man was convicted, and another 19-year-old man pleaded guilty yesterday to charges arising from a rock-throwing incident that left a 13-year-old boy seriously injured by a grapefruit-sized stone.

Prosecutors said the verdict and guilty plea sent a message.

"I don't want to just call this dumb or a mistake," said Assistant State's Attorney Jim Dietrich. "It goes beyond that. This was a grapefruit-sized stone. It caused a lot of damage."

On Oct. 30 last year, several teen-agers were throwing rocks at cars traveling from eastbound Route 108 onto southbound U.S. 29, authorities said.

A rock thrown by a 16-year-old boy went through a minivan window and struck Joshua Morrison of Ellicott City, now 14, in the head. The rock glanced off Joshua's head and dented the ceiling of the van. Joshua was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where surgeons put titanium plates in his head.

John M. Messner of Ellicott City was convicted yesterday by Howard Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman during a one-day trial on charges of conspiring to commit second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and malicious destruction of property. He could receive up to 10 years in prison on the assault charge.

Jeffrey H. Cabiness, also of Ellicott City, pleaded guilty to the same charges. Prosecutors said they are recommending that Cabiness be given a suspended five-year sentence, probation, community service and participation on a panel that goes to area middle schools to discuss the dangers of hurling rocks at cars.

Judge James B. Dudley said that he would not necessarily accept the agreement, but Cabiness pleaded guilty anyway.

The victim's mother, Sheila Morrison, said she hopes Dudley will not sentence Cabiness to prison because, she said, he displayed remorse. After Cabiness pleaded guilty, he found her in the hallway, cried and apologized, Morrison said.

"I just feel prison would not serve him," Morrison said. "I know this child will never do this again. Doing community service would make a difference."

Cabiness and Messner are to be sentenced in February.

Four other boys -- two 15, one 16 and one 17 -- were found in juvenile court to have been involved in the crime. All received probation and varying amounts of community service. Part of that includes participation on the panel discussing rock-throwing.

Joshua Morrison said he was pleased by Gelfman's verdict in Messner's trial. His father, Reed Morrison, said the verdict might stop others from throwing rocks at cars. The family was in the courtroom.

"These kinds of crimes are punished," Reed Morrison said. "It's dangerous and must stop. Joshua was lucky."

Dietrich and police said Messner, Cabiness and some of the juveniles were at The Mall in Columbia that day, then drove to a friend's apartment near the on ramp.

The group went to a grassy overlook. Police responded about 8: 15 p.m. after receiving calls about teen-agers throwing rocks at cars. When they arrived, they heard the rock striking the window of the minivan.

Police rounded up the group and questioned its members. Messner said in a statement he wrote for police that he had handled a rock. On the witness stand, however, he denied participating in the incident. He said he was sitting in a nearby parking lot smoking marijuana with other boys.

Messner said he confessed to holding a rock because he was nervous when questioned, but Gelfman said before delivering her verdict, "I didn't find the defendant to be credible at all."

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