Shooting of youth is called accident

Lawyer for handyman charged with murder asks for home detention

Skeptical judge keeps him in jail

July 13, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A lawyer defending a West Baltimore handyman accused of killing a 15-year-old for trying to steal his bicycle said yesterday that the shooting was a "tragic accident" and not the cold-blooded slaying depicted by authorities.

The competing descriptions of the shooting emerged yesterday in Baltimore District Court during the bail review hearing for Edward Day, 54, who is charged with first-degree murder and a weapons violation in the death of David Stewart.

District Judge Ben C. Clyburn denied Day's request for home detention. Day's lawyer, the judge said, might be "able to convince a jury" that the shooting was an accident.

But, Clyburn said, the facts - including Day's admission to detectives that he walked past the dying youth before leaving his home - "cut against" that assertion.

The shooting appears to be the latest example of vigilante justice by city residents claiming to be fed up with troublesome teens committing petty crimes.

Police accuse Day of shooting Stewart in the back with a 12-gauge shotgun after he spotted the youth entering his yard to steal a 10-speed bicycle.

After the shooting, Day told detectives, he went into the house, walked up the stairs and put the double-barreled shotgun in his bedroom, according to charging documents.

Day put the spent shotgun shell in his pocket and walked out his back door, stepping past the dying teen-ager, police said. He then rode one of his bicycles to a pool hall, he told detectives.

Police arrested Day about six hours later, riding the bike about a block from the deadly shooting.

But Day claimed that he did not intend to kill Stewart, police said. He said he slipped on grass and the gun accidentally discharged, according to court documents.

"This was a tragic accident," said Day's lawyer, Warren Brown. "There is nothing to dispute that."

Brown said Day might have been trying to "scare the kid away" with the loaded shotgun. "Maybe [the youth] had a gun," Brown said.

Investigators are piecing together the events leading up to the shooting and are questioning children who might have information. Among them is a 12-year-old girl who witnessed the shooting, police said.

In an interview with a reporter yesterday, the girl said that she, Stewart and four other friends were riding bicycles about 3 p.m. in the alley behind Day's home.

Stewart decided he "wanted to take a bike" from Day's yard, said the girl, whose name is being withheld by The Sun in accordance with her mother's wishes.

Diversionary tactic

She said three of the children went to the front of the house to ring the doorbell, hoping to distract the owner.

Hustling into the yard, Stewart was about to steal the bike when a man - police say it was Day - came out the back door, holding a long, black gun, the girl said.

Stewart turned around and ran when the man fired one shot, she said, hitting her friend in the back.

"There was a big puff of white smoke," she said. "I don't understand why he shot him. He didn't have to shoot him."

The girl said she watched the gunman turn around and walk back into the house before she ran home to find her father.

Stewart, she said, was lying on the ground screaming, "I'm going to die."

The youth died a half-hour later at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, becoming the city's 141st homicide victim of the year - a killing reminiscent of two other highly publicized neighborhood vigilante shootings in recent years.

In 1994, Nathaniel Hurt, a 61-year-old retired steelworker, fatally shot a 13-year-old vandalizing his car. Hurt went to prison for 14 months for killing Vernon Lee Holmes Jr.

Four years later, 78-year-old Albert Sims shot a 15-year-old boy, Jermaine Jordan, after his Cadillac was hit with a brick in the 1600 block of Llewelyn Ave.

Sims, the only resident of a block filled with vacant and boarded-up houses, was eventually found not competent to stand trial and was committed to the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, the state's facility for the criminally insane.

Both shootings sparked debates about how far citizens can go to stop nuisance crime in their neighborhood. Yesterday, residents in the 2300 block of Harlem Ave. were also grappling with the ramifications of the 15-year-old's slaying.

Many said they couldn't believe that Day would ever harm a youth for stealing a bike, noting that they thought he was too kind-hearted.

Threats recalled

But two others said Day had threatened to shoot anyone who tried to steal his property, particularly one of his bicycles.

"He said he would shoot them if they tried to take it," said Camille Whiting, 21, Day's next-door neighbor.

Paul Williams, 55, vice president of the neighborhood homeowners association, said Day had made similar threats. According to Williams, Day said: "If someone tries to steal something from me, they have to deal with me. ... I'm not going to let it go unanswered."

But Williams said he still could not believe that a man he perceives as being easygoing and "so peaceful" could ever shoot a boy.

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