CHESTERTOWN - Yesterday, beautiful in almost every way, we might have seen Germaine Clarkston among the gentle souls seated on a wooden bench beneath the large shade trees in the park across from the Kent County Courthouse. She might have sat there, like the other senior citizens so tempted, to enjoy the lovely breeze and the soft sunlight on the cusp of summer, right there by the 101-year-old Victorian fountain with its ornate quartet of cast-iron swans and lion masks and, at its high crown, a wine maiden with vessel and goblet.
Germaine Clarkston might have been tempted to make a wish and throw coins in the fountain. Or maybe she would have been elsewhere, at home in the hamlet of Georgetown, tending a garden, or perhaps on a shopping trip with friends.
On such an exquisite Eastern Shore day, one could have imagined all sorts of pleasant and peaceful things for a 73-year-old woman to do, and I found myself drawn to these imaginings as I sat in the old brick courthouse to hear testimony in a perfectly stunning case of stupidity, drunkenness, meanness and violence. All of which contributed to the death of 73-year-old Germaine Clarkston.
Monday, the state's attorney here, Robert H. Strong Jr., threw out the hate-crime charge against David Starkey, who is 24 and charged with Clarkston's killing. He was the passenger in a short-bed Chevy pickup truck last December, and he's accused of firing two blasts from a double-barreled shotgun out the window of the moving truck and into a Plymouth Horizon, killing Clarkston. Starkey is white. Clarkston was black. Strong contends Starkey is a racist, but he dropped the hate-crime charge because he believed he could not prove that race hatred was a motive in the killing.
But what Strong has plenty of is evidence of the crime - of two brothers, David Starkey and Danny Starkey, drinking heavily during and after a deer-hunting trip on Kent County land known as Gentle Winds. Strong has the testimony of police who say they heard David Starkey say he didn't mean to shoot into the car carrying Clarkston and two other women, that he merely wanted to scare the women because he was angry at the driver for slamming on the brakes while the Starkey boys were behind them in traffic.
Yesterday, Strong brought to the witness box a Maryland State Police corporal who sat in a room with David Starkey in December and watched as he wrote out an apology to the friends of Germaine Clarkston. And a second corporal said he heard Starkey tell his parents, "The gun went off. I didn't even know I hit the car. ... We're going to jail."
David Starkey was described that day as "somber, sad, scared."
Yesterday, he sat hunched at the defense table in a white, long-sleeved shirt and red paisley tie, his ample belly lapping over the belt of khaki pants. Two of his friends testified against him.
The first, R. J. Prevette, decided to skip the shirt and tie business and wear something that would expose his artistry. Prevette wore a black pocket T-shirt, which left for all to see a cornucopia of tattoos on his muscular arms. He wore white jeans and a belt with a large brass buckle. His brown hair was pulled back slick into a ponytail and, as he sat in the witness box, Prevette's chiseled, mustachioed visage reminded me of some sepia-tone photograph of a Civil War soldier, or maybe Jesse James.
Prevette works in landscaping, but he does tattooing on the side.
He had invited the Starkey brothers to go hunting last December 4. Prevette was the only one who bagged a deer that day. After the hunt, he and the Starkeys planned to attend a barbecue at the home of another friend, Ron Ferguson.
While at Ferguson's, Prevette got a telephone call. It was David Starkey. He and his brother were running late for the barbecue. It was Saturday night now and, according to testimony, the shooting of Germaine Clarkston had taken place. Starkey didn't tell Prevette that, though. What he did during the phone call was ask about getting a tattoo.
A very specific kind of tattoo. "A Thirteen" is what Prevette called it yesterday on the witness stand. And that's where his testimony about the tattoo ended. Starkey's attorney, Thomas G. Ross, objected to any further exploration up that particular alley, and the judge sustained the objection. So neither the gallery nor the jury got to appreciate the significance of "a Thirteen." But apparently, that's a reference to the 13 stars of the Confederate flag, and the particular tattoo is said to be of significance to racists. That's what David Starkey wanted from R. J. Prevette.
That's what he was thinking about the night Germaine Clarkston was killed.
But the jury never got to hear what that tattoo was all about.
This isn't a hate crime anymore, remember?