Victim's family rejects clemency

They remember life of mother as others rally to save her killer

May 14, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

For 20 years, William Buckman and Marjorie Surell have been haunted by how their mother spent the last moments of her life.

Lena Buckman was stabbed to death in September 1980, about an hour after she arrived at Surell's Pikesville home to celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days.

As activists organize rallies to stop Eugene Colvin-el from being executed for the murder, Buckman and Surell say that their mother's life -- and death -- must be remembered.

"The most painful thing is thinking about what the last moments of her life were like," said Buckman, 70, of Northbrook, Ill. "She didn't deserve to die like that. No one does."

Lena Buckman, a mother of two and grandmother of six, was attacked with a kitchen knife on her 82nd birthday and stabbed 28 times in the neck, head and hands, according to testimony.

Surell, a widow with eight grandchildren, has since moved to Baltimore from the house on the 6800 block of Cherokee Drive where the slaying occurred.

But the murder has left its scars, making her more security-conscious and more aware of how vulnerable she and her family remain.

If Surell calls one of her three children and they don't answer the telephone, it can send her into a panic.

"I worry I'll find them in a pool of blood the way I found my mother," said Surell, 75.

Buckman reacted in a similar way, installing a security system in his home in Northbrook, outside Chicago, a short time after the killing.

"You always think something like that happens to someone else, not to you, so when it does, it changes your whole perspective," he said.

Buckman, a retired advertising executive, said he remains preoccupied with how much his mother suffered before she died.

Long wait for justice

A year after the slaying, he copied his mother's autopsy report, marked the location of each stab wound on a diagram of a body, showed the sketch to his physician and asked whether his mother would have felt the pain of each wound.

Buckman's doctor could say only that the woman probably passed out when the carotid artery in her neck was severed and that the extent of her suffering depended on whether the artery was severed early in the attack.

"To this day, I don't know how much she suffered. That's really upsetting," said Buckman, a retired advertising executive.

Both Buckman and Surell say 20 years is long enough to wait for justice.

They want the sentence carried out.

"My mother was a loving, caring, giving person, and he robbed us of her," said Surell.

Lena Buckman was born in Philadelphia in 1898 and moved to Baltimore in 1904. She married Samuel Buckman in 1922.

They settled in Forest Park and raised their two children on his salary as a railway postal clerk.

She knitted, crocheted and worked as a volunteer for the American Red Cross.

The couple moved to Cocoa Beach, Fla., in 1973. Samuel Buckman died in 1979.

Both of Lena Buckman's children have homes decorated with stuffed animals that she knitted for her grandchildren and with blankets and coverlets she crocheted for them.

In the first-floor hallway of William Buckman's Illinois home, an embroidery pattern and a needlepoint pattern are framed on opposite walls. Nearby is a box in which she used to plant flowers.

"We consider this her corner," said Buckman's wife, Norma Buckman, giving a reporter a brief tour of the house.

Buckman said his mother's murder became a demarcation line in his family's history, with events dated as happening either before or after the crime.

His son David, then 19, was so distraught that he dropped out of his freshman class at Indiana University.

His daughter Karla, then a 14-year-old high school freshman, was no longer allowed to be home alone. For months after the killing, she often asked to be excused from class, went into a stairwell in the school and cried.

"It was like it was the end of innocence for us as a family," said Norma Buckman.

Buckman and Surell are angry about statements made by those campaigning to save Colvin-el, whose execution is scheduled for the week of June 12.

None of the activists or celebrities who have added their names to petitions seeking a reprieve -- such as actress Susan Sarandon -- was affected by the slaying and none seems familiar with the details of the case, they say.

"Some of what they're saying is just outright lies," Buckman said.

Colvin-el was convicted by an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury in 1981 after his fingerprint was found on a piece of glass broken from a door that police say he used to enter the home.

Jurors also heard evidence showing that eight days after the slaying, Colvin-el pawned two watches stolen from the home.

Death penalty opponents emphasize that the fingerprint was on a glass shard found outside the house.

They have tried to muster support in newspaper advertisements and fliers saying that there is only "circumstantial evidence" and that there is "no direct evidence tying him to the crime."

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