Nun's support prompts judge to release suspect

School head says she'll oversee teen until his trial

July 22, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Few attempted-murder suspects can count on the support of a nun at their court hearings.

But Sister John Francis Schilling, president of St. Frances Academy, sat yesterday in the witness stand of a Baltimore courtroom to ask a judge to release from jail Karrell Jones, one of her students.

She and Brother Gregory Cavalier, who came to court in religious garb, assured Circuit Judge John M. Glynn that they would keep Jones off the streets and out of trouble until his attempted-murder trial, which could be months away.

A skeptical Glynn said he has heard many promises from violent suspects in his 13 years as a judge. But he agreed to let Jones go.

"If I'm not willing to have faith in a sister and a brother, then I'm probably not willing to have faith in anybody around me," he said from the bench. "And that would be a sad thing."

Jones, a small-framed 18-year-old with a baby face and a prominent Adam's apple, has been in the city jail for 37 days. He was arrested June 15 and charged with attempted first-degree murder - which carries a possible life sentence - first-degree assault, second-degree assault and use of a deadly weapon.

Baltimore police accused Jones of stabbing a young man in the back May 24 during a street brawl in a neighborhood near the Eastside District Courthouse.

Police said a witness and the victim, Paul Jackson, identified him. Jones' defense attorney, Richard C.B. Woods said the witnesses are mistaken and that his client is innocent.

Assistant State's Attorney Richard Gibson opposed Jones' release and asked that he be held without bail.

Jones is a basketball player and a student in good standing at St. Frances, a 178-year-old Roman Catholic high school in East Baltimore. The 325-student school, run by the Oblate Sisters of Providence, has a national reputation for success.

A year ago, Camille Cosby, the wife of entertainer Bill Cosby, gave the school a $2 million endowment that provides full scholarships for 16 students each year. Jones is one of those students.

Schilling has been at the school for 22 years, and she has been president of it for a dozen. Over the years, she said, she has testified on behalf of many students and former students, including Dontee Stokes, who in 2002 shot a West Baltimore priest who he said had abused him in the early 1990s.

"I just think it's the right thing to do," she said about going to court for her students. "Somebody needs to stand up for them."

Before Glynn made his decision to release Jones on his own recognizance yesterday, he asked Schilling to explain why she was standing up for him.

"I would have an interest in any of my students," Schilling said. "But I have a vested interest in Karrell."

She explained his troubled childhood and how the school has stepped in to try to give him a future.

Jones had been thrown out of public middle schools and was on the streets selling drugs, Schilling said. His formal schooling stopped in the fourth grade.

On his own, Jones went to St. Frances and asked Schilling whether he could attend her school. She said she asked him why she should let him in, because he had such a low level of education.

"He said, `Because I'm smart,'" she recalled.

She enrolled Jones two years ago. He made an honor roll his first quarter and has been a dedicated student ever since. He would be a junior in the fall.

But there have been problems at home recently, Schilling said.

Jones had been living with an aunt but returned to his mother's home after she was released from a drug rehabilitation program, Schilling said. Though it hasn't been a stable environment, Jones was reluctant to leave because he worries about his younger brother, she said.

Jones has no sustained juvenile charges, the prosecutor and defense attorney said in court. His only arrest was in early May for marijuana possession. A judge imposed probation before judgment until the end of the month and a $100 fine.

About midnight May 24 in the 1600 block of Normal Ave., a fight erupted among young men. Amid the brawl, Paul Jackson was stabbed in the back.

Woods and a state pretrial release services investigator in court yesterday pointed to several problems with the case against Jones.

According to the initial police report, they said, the victim did not know who stabbed him. He identified Jones in a photographic array about a month later, after talking to the other witness, his cousin, Woods said. An adult witness, located by the defense , has given an affidavit saying that Jones was on a porch during the fight.

No date has been set for the Circuit Court trial.

With serious charges hanging over Jones' head, Schilling and other St. Frances faculty members and supporters said they are ready to force him into a more stable environment.

Schilling and Cavalier told Glynn they would take personal responsibility for Jones. They said he would live at the Christian Brothers' residence, near St. Frances on Brentwood Avenue, until they found a suitable permanent home for him.

The pretrial release investigator, James Jacobs, also recommended that Jones be released, based on the school's assurance that it would take care of him. Jacobs also said a 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. curfew should be imposed.

Glynn said he was willing to take a chance on Jones because of the support of the people around him. "Ordinarily I would never do this," the judge said.

Glynn told Schilling and Cavalier to report to him immediately if Jones stops obeying them.

Jones told the judge: "You don't have to worry about me crossing anyone. ... I know I'm going to do right. I'm not going to be hanging out with nobody that's going to get me in trouble."

Glynn sent the young man off with these words: "Good luck. I hope I don't regret this."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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