Four held in Anne Arundel teen's death are released after state drops charges

August 20, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

Four men jailed since last month in the death of an Anne Arundel County high school football player were freed Wednesday night after prosecutors dropped murder charges against them -- though authorities say the four still could face other charges in the case.

A preliminary autopsy report shows that Noah Jamahl Jones' fatal injuries July 24 were "inconsistent with initial police assessment" that led authorities to accuse Jacob Tyler Fortney, Richard Elbert McLeod, Joshua David Bradley and David Michael George in the death of the 18-year-old Northeast High student, said Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for the county's state's attorney's office.

But the investigation continues, Riggin said, and prosecutors are looking into claims by Jones' family that his death may have been the result of a hate crime. Jones was black, and the four initially charged with murder are white.

The possibility of other charges comes as no consolation to members of Jones' family, who were rocked by the decision to drop the murder charges, said Jones' mother, Robin Jones.

"We are disgusted with the state's attorney's decision to release these four young men," Robin Jones said yesterday. "We were just starting to heal a little bit. But now, we're back to square one."

She believes that her son's death was racially motivated. Last year, he and his friends were assaulted by a group of white youths at a neighborhood party, she said.

The Anne Arundel chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said yesterday that it was preparing to send a letter to the Justice Department's hate crimes unit asking for a federal investigation of the case.

Officials with the state's attorney's office said that, based on the evidence, they had no choice but to release the men, ages 18 to 20, who had been held at the Anne Arundel Detention Center.

"We very much understand how upset the victim's family is right now. For obvious reasons, they are overwhelmingly disappointed," Riggin said. "But it would be wrong of us to hold these four men at this point based on those preliminary autopsy reports."

Sun staff writers Andrea F. Siegel and Liz F. Kay contributed to this article.

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