Metro: News from around the Baltimore region

CITY/COUNTY DIGEST

July 28, 2005

BALTIMORE

To cut street crime, city tries spotlight towers

The Baltimore Police Department has put 30 large spotlight towers in neighborhoods around the city as part of a new plan to discourage drug dealers and loiterers by illuminating dark street corners.

"A quick idea was, can we get a portable source that would light something up, that the community would feel comfortable about and the criminals would not stay under a bright light and commit crime," said Col. Deborah Owens, chief of patrol.

One of the light towers - similar to ones used by highway departments in construction zones - stands near a vacant, litter-strewn lot near Greenmount and Whitridge avenues in North Baltimore, surrounded by orange cones.

Owens said the lights are placed in areas where a high number of homicides or other crimes have occurred on poorly lit streets. They were placed in one northeast neighborhood in which a string of robberies occurred.

The program is in addition to a $2 million network of surveillance cameras installed to monitor and record activities.

Owens said police have heard from residents who like the lights, but added that it was too early to tell whether the program decreases crime.

Some of the lights had been vandalized, she said.

- Tyrone Richardson

BALTIMORE

Two fatal shootings bring homicide toll to 162 for year

Two men were fatally shot while seated in cars in separate and apparently unrelated incidents Tuesday night and yesterday morning in Baltimore, police said.

The deaths brought to 162 the number of homicides in the city this year, compared with 166 at the same time in 2004, police said.

Officers investigating a report of a man shot in the 3800 block of Elmora Ave. about 5:30 a.m. yesterday in the Belair-Edison neighborhood found Ernest Pope, 53, of the nearby 3800 block of Lyndale Ave., in his 1998 Isuzu, dead from at least one wound to the body, said homicide Detective Ray Laslett Jr.

About 10:35 p.m. Tuesday, David Howard, 19, of the 100 block of Ashlar Hill Court in Hillendale, Baltimore County, was found shot multiple times in his red 1996 Cadillac, parked in the 2600 block of Norland Road in the Lakeland community, police said.

Howard died shortly before 1 a.m. yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, said homicide Detective Paul Kidd.

Anyone with information about either killing is urged to call the homicide squad at 410-396-2100.

-Richard Irwin

BALTIMORE COUNTY

Man refuses to testify against murder suspect

By the time Eric Thomas "Ock" Watkins took the witness stand yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, he had pleaded guilty to murdering a 15-year-old Woodlawn girl whose body was found burning in a Pikesville park last year and testified against one of three other defendants in the case.

But Watkins balked yesterday when asked to testify against Jason T. Richards, the man accused of being the ringleader in a plot to kill Quartrina Johnson. He said he did not remember anything about the case - including his guilty plea.

His refusal to answer questions surprised prosecutors, who alleged during opening statements that Richards hatched a plan in conversations with Watkins to kill Quartrina and her foster sister. It also left his plea deal up in the air, a deal which promised him no more than 60 years in prison in return for his testimony.

"We don't know if somebody got to him or not," said Watkins' attorney, Alvin Alston.

Just what effect Watkins' actions will have on the case against Richards was unclear yesterday, although Judge Patrick Cavanaugh said he will allow prosecutors to offer taped statements the 19-year-old made to police and prosecutors.

Prosecutors alleged yesterday that Richards, 25, enlisted three friends - Watkins, Ogden E. "G-Wizz" Coleman and Michael Xavier Shelton - to help him kill Quartrina and her then 13-year-old foster sister in July 2004 to "get rid of the witnesses" after he was accused of statutory rape involving the younger girl.

But Richards' lawyer, Mark Van Bavel, said the younger girl was never harmed.

Shelton pleaded guilty to conspiracy in March. Coleman was convicted of first-degree murder Friday. Watkins and Shelton testified in that case.

- Lisa Goldberg

BALTIMORE

Board of Estimates approves land deal with New Psalmist

The Board of Estimates approved without discussion yesterday a $16.6 million land deal with the New Psalmist Baptist Church, part of the Uplands project in Southwest Baltimore that officials say will create the city's largest new residential development in decades.

Under the agreement, announced in September, the city will take title to two parcels totaling about 50 acres where the 7,000-member church and several related buildings stand off Edmondson Avenue, near the Baltimore County line.

In return, New Psalmist will receive city-owned property worth $2.4 million in Seton Business Park, where it will move by 2010. It will also get $14.1 million, to be paid in installments over the next five years.

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