After man's death, grief and a son's memory

June 28, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

At 8 p.m., the exact hour the vigil was supposed to start, Margaret Hamlett rose from her porch chair and addressed those assembled at her home on Wylie Avenue.

"Y'all come on. We're gonna have prayer."

Then she prayed. Prayed for her relatives who had died within the past year. Prayed especially for her grandson Jerrod Hamlett, who was only 23 on June 25, 2005, when a boy shot him to death. The boy was only 13. He's since been committed to a juvenile facility until he's 21 years old.

Margaret Hamlett even prayed for "the boy that took Jerrod's life. If he had somebody in his life to guide him, Jerrod might still be alive today."

Instead, exactly one year after June 25, 2005, she stood with her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to hold a candlelight vigil in honor of Jerrod Hamlett.

"He was the biggest helper I've ever had," she said of her grandson, who was known as "Rody" to family members. "I didn't have to worry about the snow being shoveled, the trash being put out. We didn't have to worry about him standing on the corner selling drugs and all that kind of stuff."

Raquel Hamlett, Jerrod's younger sister, promised to keep her brother's name alive through his son, who's now 3 years old. You won't read the boy's name in this column. Jerrod Hamlett's mother requested that her grandson's name not be used.

I didn't press her on the issue. I can only guess about her reasons, but if she's as tired as I am of one year of seeing the identity of her son's killer being protected, of him being given consideration that neither his victim nor his victim's family have received or will ever receive under this current system of juvenile "justice," then I understand.

If we can respect the privacy of Jerrod Hamlett's murderer, we can damn sight respect the privacy of his 3-year-old son, who may have been victimized more than his dad.

Before Sunday night's vigil, I sat on Margaret Hamlett's porch chatting with her. Or rather, trying to chat with her. Much of my time was spent talking to two little boys who were determined to chat me up.

Both boasted that they had bikes.

"My daddy's name is on my bike," said the shorter one.

"What's your daddy's name?" I asked.

"Jerrod," he answered.

So this is Jerrod Hamlett's son, I thought. That's when I noticed the T-shirt he wore. It was a white T-shirt Raquel made for the occasion. She had painted on her nephew's T-shirt the words "Rody's All Star" and "I Miss My Dad Every Day, But He Lives On In My Ways."

At one point the other boy started rumpling that T-shirt.

"Don't mess it up!" Jerrod Hamlett's son shouted. "My daddy will get mad."

It still hasn't quite hit the boy - that his daddy is gone forever.

"My daughter takes him to his father's grave," Margaret Hamlett said. "He tells her, `My daddy's been away too long. I want him to come home now.' " Her daughter is Julis Hamlett, Jerrod's mother, and she takes the boy to the grave.

"He has a very good memory of his father," she said. "That's because my son took the time with him. Not a day goes by when he doesn't ask about his father."

Julis Hamlett said she listened to the words the mother of her son's killer spoke in court: how the boy's father died when he was young, and how she had trouble with him ever since and wasn't able to get help for him. Julis Hamlett doesn't buy any of it. There are plenty of black women, Julis Hamlett observed, in similar situations to the one the killer's mother was in whose sons don't commit murder.

"When my son was his [the killer's] age he wasn't hanging out in the street until 1 in the morning or even 9 at night," she said. "There's no excuse. Now my son's son don't have a father."

Her son's killer will be free after seven years, a situation Julis Hamlett finds particularly unjust.

"That boy's been getting in trouble a long time," she said. "He should have got some help before [killing Jerrod]."

A December 2005 Sun story by reporter Sumathi Reddy revealed that Jerrod's killer was on probation in two assault cases and had been arrested six times in an 18-month period. He was also reputed to be in a ruthless drug gang called "Cutthroat." Julis Hamlett has posed a question, which the folks who run juvenile "justice" in Maryland have yet to answer, and probably won't.

With that arrest record, why couldn't they have committed Jerrod Hamlett's killer to a seven-year stint in a juvenile facility before he killed somebody?

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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