At 15, charged with two murders

No parents, home found for accused

September 23, 2006|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun reporter

People who know him describe him as a small, skinny boy who is still growing. They say he likes playing football video games and cracks up the neighborhood kids with his impressions of celebrities and people who live in the area.

As far as they know, he doesn't have a home.

He is Zachary James. He turned 15 in April, and police say they believe he shot and killed two grown men.

"He was just a child in need - in need of his parents," said Delores Nichols, who lives in a tidy Northwest Baltimore house where James liked to spend time and where he told police he lives.

Police have a very different view of James. "He is streetwise and system-wise," said Lt. Terry McLarney, a supervisor in the Baltimore homicide unit.

It is unusual and tragic to have such a young person accused of two killings, McLarney said: "If you lined him up with a bunch of ninth-graders, he'd look like them."

McLarney listened when detectives interviewed James. "It was like looking at a kid and hearing an adult," he said. "The words he chose, and his knowledge of the system ... some of what he said, if you closed your eyes you would think there was a 24-year-old career criminal sitting there."

City crime statistics compiled by the city state's attorney's office show that suspected killers are getting younger. Eleven youths under the age of 18 were charged with murder last year - one 14-year-old, three 16-year-olds and seven 17-year-olds. This year, 14 juveniles have been charged with murder - one 14-year-old, five 15-year-olds, four 16-year-olds and four 17-year-olds.

James has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and is being held without bail. A law enforcement source said James has been arrested on juvenile drug charges in the past.

One victim, Richard Smith, who was 34, was found shot to death under a red Ford Contour sedan on Park Heights Avenue just north of Druid Hill Park. Police said there was no evidence that the body had been moved.

He was shot about 9:45 p.m. July 16, on a particularly bloody weekend for Baltimore when five others were either killed or found dead.

The other person James is charged with killing, Michael Freeman, 32, was shot in front of his own house in the 3400 block of Park Heights Ave., apparently during a botched robbery, police said. Witnesses identified James as the shooter and picked his photo out of a lineup, according to charging documents filed in court. Investigators are still waiting on additional crime lab evidence, McLarney said.

"These were not fights. These were not shootouts. These were crimes that came from a calculated, cold-blooded murderer," McLarney said.

No guns were recovered from the scenes. McLarney declined to be more specific about what weapons were used.

"It is unfortunate that he is 15," McLarney said. "He's running around murdering people and he's doing as much damage as if he was 30."

At this point in the investigation, police don't believe that the two victims are connected by anything other than a common killer. Neither had a significant criminal record.

Police said James was arrested about noon Sept. 9 in an apartment in Northwest Baltimore near Liberty Heights Avenue, close to the Baltimore County line near Seton Industrial Park. Police said two different types of fire arms were found. "This kid had access to more than one gun," McLarney said.

A woman in the ground-floor apartment would not open her door and, speaking through a window, refused to comment last night. The Seton Park complex is made up of two-story brick townhouses divided into apartments.

Police said James told them he lived with Nichols in the 4200 block of Towanda Ave., in Park Heights. She said she last saw him on Labor Day in front of the house.

It is easy to see why he would want to be there. The middle-class neighborhood boasts green lawns and rows of cheerful, well-kept homes. People smile and greet strangers in the street. Inside, there are black-and-white photographs of Nichols' ancestors on the mantel, and the hardwood floors gleam.

Nichols describes him as respectful - he always called her Miss Delores - but said he wasn't allowed to stay there.

It wasn't the first time he called Nichols' house home. She said that about a year ago she got a medical bill for him in the mail. She didn't open it - she stuck it in the mailbox to be returned to sender.

But she feels for him. "What kind of parents are they?" Nichols asked. "I have to say it is sad to have a 15-year-old boy and they don't know where he is." Police didn't have any information about his parents yesterday.

"He's probably scared over there," said a friend, Trell Davis, 19, referring to the City Jail. "He was just running around chilling. Being a kid ... I just want him to come home."

Sun reporters Gus G. Sentementes and Douglas Birch contributed to this article.

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