The search for sense is futile in this murder case

July 27, 2005|By Gregory Kane

WILLIAM McCoy's words haunted me when he first uttered them last summer. They've haunted me ever since.

Last week, they really haunted me.

McCoy was 67 when we spoke in Gwynnvale Park last August. He and members of his family had gathered with folks from the nearby community to hold a candlelight vigil for Quartrina Johnson, a 15-year-old girl whose corpse had been left burning in the park last July.

Quartrina was McCoy's great-granddaughter. She had been murdered and her body set on fire so it couldn't be identified. It took over a week before McCoy knew that the body police found in the park was indeed his beloved Quartrina, who would call him regularly to ask, "Pop-Pop, how are you doing?" and to be sure he had taken his diabetes medication.

"There's certain things people do and certain things you don't have to do," McCoy told me at the vigil last year. "They didn't have to do this to her."

Indeed "they" didn't. There are four of these "theys."

Ogden E. "G-Wizz" Coleman was one of the "theys." He was found guilty in Quartrina's murder in Baltimore County Circuit Court last week. Two other "theys" - Michael Xavier Shelton and Eric Thomas "Ock" Watkins - pleaded guilty to their roles in this gruesome affair and had part of their sentences suspended after they testified against Coleman.

The trial of "they" No. 4 - Jason Terrence Richards - is to start this week in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

McCoy had no idea why "they" murdered his Quartrina as he stood fighting back the tears when he spoke to me on that cloudy August evening last year, but he does now. We all do.

Watkins testified that Quartrina was killed to keep her from testifying in a statutory rape case. Quartrina's foster sister testified last week that she had a sexual relationship with Richards that started when she was 12.

The girl is now 14. Richards is 25.

Is there a more sobering lesson about why girls in their early teens and younger should not have sex with men in their 20s and older? It's not that it's inappropriate, although it is.

It's not because it's immoral.

Although it is.

We now know that it's terribly dangerous. Any so-called man in his 20s who would have sex with a 12-year-old girl is not only lacking in honor. In some cases, the guy just might be homicidal.

And - because we can only speak of those convicted so far - at least three of these guys weren't terribly bright. They were downright stupid.

They kill Quartrina Johnson to keep her from testifying in a statutory rape case. Just where did they get the idea that doing time for murder would be preferable to doing time for statutory rape - where? Who knows? The Grand Theft Auto video game, perhaps.

Then they decide to get rid of the body by burning it. Not by leaving it somewhere where it could have decomposed to the point where it was unrecognizable, which they would have learned in high school biology. But I get the feeling these guys skipped high school biology.

No. These dimwits decided to burn the body. As if flames don't attract attention. That's not the worst of it.

Quartrina was killed in Baltimore, where prosecutors seldom ask for the death penalty. They took her body to Baltimore County and burned it. It changed Quartrina's murder from being a Baltimore case to a Baltimore County case. And the state's attorney's office in Baltimore County has a history of asking for the death penalty in every case where it applies.

And rightly so, I might add.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said that the death penalty isn't being sought in Quartrina's murder.

"We couldn't prove the principal," O'Connor said, which is legalese meaning that it would have been difficult to determine which of the four "theys" killed Quartrina.

"There were no aggravating factors," O'Connor said, which also have to be present for the death penalty to apply. "She [Quartrina] went with them willingly, so it was not a kidnapping."

Quartrina and her foster sister went with the four "theys" to a school in South Baltimore, where Watkins held her legs and hit her on the head with a board while Coleman choked her with a shoestring, Watkins testified last week.

"This is a horrible, horrible case," O'Connor said. "Sometimes you think the ugly ones would naturally fit there [in the capital offense category], but sometimes they don't."

That's too bad. If there were ever some "theys" who should end up on death row, then at least a couple of the guys involved in this case fit the bill.

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