Mother feels `cheated' by verdict in trial

Man accused of killing her son acquitted by jury

May 13, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The mother of the Morgan State University senior stabbed to death last year on the dance floor of a Baltimore nightclub said yesterday that she felt "cheated" by the city's justice system after the acquittal of a popular disc jockey accused of killing him.

"I still don't understand what happened," said Mamie Belcher from her home in New York.

Having adopted Rashed Tolliver when he was 3 years old, Belcher said she can't imagine that her son would have been willingly involved in the melee that ended in his killing, saying he always was afraid to fight.

Tolliver, 21, was killed April 26, 2003, at an end-of-year party for graduating Morgan seniors at the Baltimore Live nightclub on Howard Street.

On Tuesday, Damon Anthony Williams, 24, also known as DJ Action, was acquitted of murder. He had been held in jail on a no-bail status since his arrest. His lawyers contended that police had the wrong man, and that he did not kill Tolliver.

Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for Morgan, said Tuesday's verdict "makes an already tragic situation that much more so."

"The family of Mr. Tolliver and the Morgan family have been denied closure," Coleman said.

Police said that the victim and Williams had been involved in a yearlong dispute. Shortly before the killing, the two had argued again at the club, where campus promoters had organized a private party to begin the "I Love Morgan" weekend, according to police.

But prosecutors did not have the evidence to convince the jury that Williams killed Tolliver. They did not bring in any eyewitnesses or physical evidence to show that Williams was the assailant, defense attorney Kenneth W. Ravenell said.

"There was no evidence to show Damon was the knife-wielding suspect," said Ravenell. "Everyone knows a fight broke out, but no one knows exactly what happened."

Prosecutors acknowledged that they had problems with the case because employees from the club cleaned up the crime scene before detectives arrived.

Then, the scant evidence they did collect from the club became waterlogged after the evidence room flooded during Tropical Storm Isabel in September.

"There was very little evidence," said Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office.

Additionally, Burns said, police and prosecutors were frustrated by clubgoers who saw the crime but did not come forward to talk.

"We had an estimated 300 people there, and not one person who witnessed the murder stepped forward to help us prove this crime," she said.

Tolliver's mother said she believes that Williams killed her son and is angry with Baltimore's criminal justice system.

"They handled the case just like he was nothing," said Belcher, 59.

She and her husband - who have 11 children, seven of them adopted - took in Tolliver after his drug-addicted mother neglected him, Belcher said.

"He had a hard life from the beginning," she said.

But Tolliver studied hard in school, made the honor roll and played football in high school.

"He was never in trouble, he was afraid to fight," his mother said. "I never had to go to the school for him."

After he graduated from high school, he went to Georgia State University for a semester, until he became homesick. "He said, `Oh, Mom, I'm too far away from home,'" Belcher said. "So he went to Baltimore where it was easy to get back and forth. He loved being at Morgan."

His plan after graduation was to return to his hometown of Mount Vernon, N.Y., to attend law school.

Belcher's husband, Grover, died six years ago. Now her son is buried with him, at Mount Hope Cemetery, next to the Hudson River.

"I feel very sad about that," she said. "That hurt me so bad."

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