Boy charged in killing to be tried as juvenile

November 15, 2005|By SUMATHI REDDY | SUMATHI REDDY,SUN REPORTER

A Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that a 14-year-old charged with fatally shooting a man will be tried as a juvenile, denying a request by state prosecutors to move the case to adult court and ensuring that the city's youngest murder suspect, if convicted, would be released by the time he turns 21.

Judge Clifton J. Gordy said that while the boy's conduct was "heartless" and that without rehabilitation he is a danger to public safety, placing him in the adult criminal system would be "frightening."

Listening intently to the lengthy and impassioned hearing, the boy, who was 13 at the time of the killing, shook one of his friend's hands and hugged his mother before being led away in handcuffs by sheriff's deputies at the Juvenile Justice Center on Gay Street.

Dressed in oversized khakis and a white T-shirt, he declined to speak at the hearing aside from quiet "yes, sir" and "no, sir" replies. He faces a juvenile court hearing Dec. 19.

The Northwest Baltimore youth is charged with murder and handgun violations in connection with the June 25 fatal shooting of Jerrod Hamlett, 23, at the Oswego Mall apartments, a public housing project in Park Heights.

Prosecutors say he shot Hamlett four times after a spat over thrown bottles. The boy - whom The Sun is not naming because he faces juvenile charges - is accused of belonging to a violent gang known as "Cutthroat," a drug-dealing ring of juveniles run by adults.

Hamlett's relatives were angry with the decision. "He knew what he was doing," said Julis Hamlett, Jerrod's mother. "The boy needed to be stopped. Something needed to be done. It's like a game to these kids because they know they can get out."

The young suspect was one month shy of his 14th birthday when the shooting occurred. Had he been 14 at the time, he would have been charged as an adult and faced charges that could have sent him to prison for life.

Assistant State's Attorney Janet S. Hankin called the boy "one of the most impressive threats to public safety" that she has seen, revealing that he was on probation for two previous assaults and had been arrested six times in 18 months.

A picture emerged in court of a seventh-grader whose brushes with the law began at the age of 12 and who had truancy and behavioral problems at Pimlico Middle School.

At his first evaluation, the juvenile stated, "I don't like people," Diane Mason, his caseworker, said in court. But she said at his second evaluation, the boy's attitude had changed and he was smiling.

Evaluations referenced in court showed that he displayed aggression that led to school suspensions, was impulsive, easily frustrated and apt to strike out. A psychiatric evaluation found that the boy suffered from a conduct disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol and marijuana abuse.

Hankin said that after the argument over the bottles with Hamlett and his girlfriend, the boy and a friend returned to Oswego Court with bandannas covering their faces.

The other boy handed him a gun, which he fired four times at Hamlett, the prosecutor said. When someone else told him to keep shooting, the boy responded that that there were no more bullets.

Hankin called the shooting a premeditated act, saying the boy had a chance to walk away from the dispute but came back with a weapon.

"You can stop and change your mind," she said. "You don't have to take a gun.

"You can stop and change your mind," she said. "You don't have to pull the trigger ... and then to say, well, `I can't shoot him anymore, I don't have any more bullets.' "

"He made a choice that day, like an adult," she added.

But defense attorney Rodney Gray pointed to his client's stature and amenability to treatment. At 4 feet 11 inches and 98 pounds, "this young man is certainly not capable of maintaining" himself in adult prison, he said.

Gray said the youth could be sent to the KidsPeace Mesabi Academy in Buhl, Minn., and the Shelby Training Center in Memphis, Tenn.

The suspect's mother declined to comment. "She's happy and satisfied with the outcome," Gray said.

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

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