No bail for pair in Sept. killing

Teen suspects charged with murder, carjacking

Called a robbery gone awry

Death penalty considered for older defendant, 19


October 29, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel and Amanda J. Crawford | Andrea F. Siegel and Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Two Annapolis teen-agers were ordered held without bail yesterday on charges that they killed a man during a robbery-carjacking outside his home in the state capital's historic district last month, a crime that shocked the quiet neighborhood.

Leeander Jerome Blake, 17, and Terrence Tolbert, 19, both of the 1300 block of Tyler Ave. in the Robinwood public housing complex, are charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, armed carjacking and two related counts in the Sept. 19 execution-style shooting of Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, who was unloading groceries when he was killed.

"I'm just scared, that's all," Blake told District Judge Martha F. Rasin during a bail hearing, conducted via closed-circuit television from the county jail. Tolbert said little, aside from telling the judge he has family in the area and is expecting to be a father soon.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Cogan told the judge that both teen-agers confessed to taking part in the crime. However, Blake's charging documents do not say anything about Blake being questioned by Annapolis police.

Blake's uncle said in court that the arrest has devastated the family.

"My nephew has never been in anything of this magnitude," he said, describing him as "just a kid."

Blake's mother, clearly distraught, described her son in court as "a good child. He goes to school every day." She also said, "I understand what the other family is going through."

Tolbert's charging documents describe an armed robbery gone awry when Griffin resisted, with the older suspect naming Blake, an Annapolis High School student, as the gunman and driver.

According to the documents, the pair intended to rob Griffin and shot him in the head when he resisted. They then took the keys to his 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee and drove over him as they fled in it, leaving him in a pool of blood.

Griffin's brother and a friend watched the court hearing.

"I found it very sad for all the families involved," Sande Dyott, the friend and neighbor, said later.

In court, a pretrial worker said there were reports that Tolbert, who was on a year's probation from a gaming conviction this summer, has a bipolar mental disorder and has been a drug user.

At the time of Griffin's slaying, Tolbert had been released from jail to await trials on drug charges in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court and on assault and two other charges in District Court.

According to sources familiar with the teen-agers' backgrounds, both have juvenile records.

Blake has been accused of possession with intent to distribute drugs twice since last year. He completed probation in both cases.

Since 1999, Tolbert has been accused of theft, burglary and reckless endangerment in which gunshots were fired. He was given probation in each case.

Tolbert lost his right arm and part of his left foot in a 1991 accident in Robinwood in which he was severely burned. Tolbert, then 8 years old, crawled into an open, 13,000-volt electrical transformer to retrieve a stick that he and friends had been playing with.

Tolbert was the subject of an outpouring of community support after the accident, said Carl O. Snowden, a former Annapolis alderman and now special assistant to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens. Snowden helped to raise money for Tolbert through the Black Political Forum. Trust funds paid for treatment and care for Tolbert, who was hospitalized for more than a month.

The boy and his mother, Juanita Johns, sued Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. for $25 million, but court records indicate the case was thrown out. He received a $200,000 settlement from the Annapolis Housing Authority, which owned the electrical box.

Neighbors painted conflicting portraits of the teen-agers yesterday, describing them as "well-mannered," but noting that they had been involved in fights and had trouble with the police.

Several neighbors noted how strong and resilient Tolbert was. After the accident, he relearned to tie his shoes and later learned to ride a bicycle and drive a car. One teen-age neighbor said Tolbert, who graduated from Annapolis High School in May, was so strong he could pick her up with one arm.

Blake was known by his middle name, Jerome, or the nickname "Sweater." He worked part time at TJ Maxx in Annapolis, according to neighbors.

"I wouldn't think he would do a crime like that," said neighbor Ruth James, 71. "He's too good of a guy and comes from too nice of a family to do that."

"It is hard to believe," said neighbor Bobbie Jean Wilkins. "A lot of people are surprised and shocked by it all."

Prosecutors will consider seeking the death penalty against Tolbert but do not know whether he is eligible, said State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee. It would not apply to Blake because of his age. And if Blake were the shooter, it would not apply to Tolbert, said Weathersbee.

As a juvenile, Blake is entitled to a preliminary hearing within 15 days, and Tolbert within 30 days, if they are not indicted sooner. But a grand jury meeting Friday could pre-empt that. Weathersbee said he did not know yet whether he would seek an indictment so quickly.

Blake can ask to be tried as a juvenile, which would limit his possible punishment.

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