20 years later, a homicide victim

Man's death in Fla. linked by examiner to 1980 shooting

April 26, 2000|By Mark Ribbing and Peter Hermann | Mark Ribbing and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's 95th homicide victim of the year died last week -- 20 years and 930 miles away from where he was shot.

Robert Truitt, 45, died April 19, in Tampa, Fla. Two days later, Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Vega ruled the death a homicide, the result of an incident that occurred two decades ago.

Around 6: 50 p.m. on Jan. 12, 1980, Truitt, whose last known Maryland address was 1005 N. Dukeland St., was shot several times in the upper back in the 1500 block of N. Mount St. in West Baltimore. He survived the attack, but was left a paraplegic. He moved to Florida three years ago.

After the shooting, Truitt's bowel and bladder no longer functioned properly, a condition for which he underwent several operations. Vega said this problem made Truitt's system particularly vulnerable. During the past few years, he developed a urinary infection that turned into a fatal blood infection.

Vega decided that Truitt's death resulted from the 1980 incident, and Maryland's medical examiner, Dr. John E. Smialek, agreed. One bullet remained lodged in Truitt's spine and was removed during the autopsy.

Baltimore police had a suspect in 1980, but charges against him were dismissed when Truitt was unable to testify because of his condition. No charges can be made now because Maryland's "year and a day" law dictates that homicide charges may only be filed if a death occurs within 366 days of the initial injury.

When asked if it bothered her that the law could leave her son's killer free, Truitt's mother, 70-year-old Hilda Eady of Seminole Heights, Fla., said, "No, it doesn't matter. [Truitt] didn't feel that way either. The person that did it they may be sorry they did it. There's no sense in me brooding about it."

Eady said Truitt's funeral will be in Tampa, where he moved to be near her. Truitt had a 20-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old stepdaughter.

Vega said the amount of time that elapses between an attack and the death of a victim can vary considerably. "Although most of the homicides we see occur fairly rapidly after the incident, other times they are quite time-delayed," he said.

The Truitt case is hardly the most extreme local example of this phenomenon. "These things are not the norm, but they're not unheard of either," said Baltimore police spokesman Maj. Michael Bass.

In October 1994, Saunders Samuel White died of a blood clot in Richmond, Va., at the age of 60. A Virginia medical examiner ruled that White's death had resulted from a shooting at the corner of Washington and North Gay streets in Baltimore on Feb. 17, 1962. Like Truitt, White had been partially paralyzed by gunfire. A suspect in White's shooting was tried in 1968, but the charges were dismissed.

Two months before White's death, an even older shooting had claimed a victim. Frederick Harris was shot in the back at the corner of East Lombard and Spring streets on Aug. 13, 1959; Henry Mosely, who was 64 at the time, was charged with assault with intent to murder. On Aug. 22, 1994, Harris died at Johns Hopkins Hospital at age 52. A medical examiner found that his death resulted from scar tissue around his inflamed heart, a condition that had been caused by the shooting 35 years and nine days before.

The disposition of the charges against Mosely could not be determined. Nor could his whereabouts at the time of Harris' death -- by which time Mosely would have been 99 years old.

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