Trials end, but wounds remain sore

Debate: After two brothers are convicted of murder, Kent County residents continue to wrestle with questions about race, justice and the future.

June 24, 2000|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CHESTERTOWN - One thing most everyone in Kent County - black or white - seems to agree on: Justice was done.

But the back-to-back trials that produced guilty verdicts for Daniel and David Starkey, two young white men convicted in the shotgun killing of a 73-year-old black woman, have left many residents of Maryland's least-populous county wondering when or whether things might ever be the same.

With the spotlight gone from the 140-year-old brick courthouse in the county seat, many residents continue to debate the case and wonder about racial implications in the Dec. 4 death of Germaine Porcea Clarkston that were only hinted at in the legal drama that unfolded during the past two weeks in the rural county of 19,000.

"I think in a cultural sense, everybody here is a victim because it shattered a way of life," says the Rev. Carol Davis, the Methodist pastor who presided over the funeral of her church organist, a service that drew 400 people of both races. "It will take a while for people to regain that sense of a peaceful country environment."

The Starkey brothers, lifelong residents of the small town of Millington near the Delaware border, were accused of stalking Clarkston's car in a pickup truck for more than 20 miles over dark country roads as she and two companions returned from Christmas shopping to their isolated neighborhood of Georgetown.

The brothers, who had been drinking and deer hunting with friends all day before the shooting, claimed they only meant to scare the women, who they said had irritated them by driving erratically.

David Starkey, 24, a former Marine Corps sharpshooter, faces a sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

Daniel, 20, who drove his 1988 Chevrolet truck as his brother fired a double-barreled 12-gauge into the car, was convicted June 15 of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. He could also spend the rest of his life in prison. Both are scheduled for sentencing Aug. 11.

A county grand jury indicted the pair for committing a hate crime in the attack. But in Danny Starkey's trial, a judge threw out the charge. In the second trial, because of the precedent, State's Attorney Robert H. Strong Jr. decided against trying to present evidence - racist tattoos worn by David Starkey, Ku Klux Klan literature and other indications that the shooting was a hate-based crime.

"I certainly don't think that people's minds have been eased," says Yvonne McKinney, a friend of the Clarkston family who sat through long days of testimony spread over nearly two weeks. "For a lot of people, it just pointed out that this kind of stuff lives in this town. I think black people had their eyes opened in this town."

Facing reporters after a jury convicted David Starkey of first-degree murder this week, an obviously drained Linwood G. Clarkston Jr., an only child who lived next door to his mother in Georgetown, said the guilty verdicts should remind people that "this is 2000; we're not back in the 1800s."

Many white residents say they see little indication of any widespread racial divide in Kent County, where murder has historically been a one-in-a-decade occurrence.

One merchant in Chestertown's historic downtown district who watched from his small shop as the hoopla of the trials unfolded a block away at the courthouse, says few of his friends or business associates gave much credence to the race-crime charge.

"It was stupid, wrong, tragic, but I don't think it was related to color," said the man, who refused to give his name for fear of offending black customers.

Charity Gsell owns the Caulk's Field One-Stop, about a mile from Clarkston's neighborhood of Georgetown, a working-class African-American enclave that local historians say was established somewhere around the War of 1812.

Gsell, who is white, said she knew Clarkston for years. She knows just about everyone in the 1.5-mile-long string of houses that line the rural road where two shotgun slugs tore through the small car carrying Clarkston and two companions.

The country store is the only one in the 12-mile stretch between Chestertown and Rock Hall, and Gsell has heard all kinds of theories from customers of both races about why the Starkeys did what they did.

Some call it a hate crime. Some say it was a drug-related incident, maybe a case of mistaken identity. Many are inclined to believe it was a lethal combination of alcohol and stupidity or just plain meanness.

"I think there's a lot of relief from everyone that these trials are over, that they'll go to jail for a long time," Gsell says.

"Practically everybody in Kent County knew Germaine. Her family are all fine people. But I just don't believe it was a hate crime."

Many who were incredulous when hate crime charges were first lodged, point to Kent County's relative lack of racial rancor, even during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement that saw violence engulf Cambridge, 50 miles to the south.

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