Jury is told of pranks, killing

Halloween mischief ended in gunfire

January 24, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

On the night before Halloween in 2004, a group of young boys ran around their Turners Station neighborhood in Dundalk, tossing eggs, firing BB guns and making mischief.

"They had no way of knowing," Baltimore County prosecutor Jennifer Schiffer told a jury yesterday at the opening of a murder trial, "the fury that their actions would create."

When one egg hit a woman squarely in the chest, a teenager at the party she was attending ran after the boys with a sword. Later, people at the party called some friends, who went looking with a gun for the boys.

Caught in the commotion was a 73-year-old great-grandfather, who was fatally shot as he walked through his neighborhood at dusk.

"I didn't know it would escalate the way it did," testified Khaleedah Jones, the woman hit with an egg.

The testimony came on the first day of the murder trial of Jose Antonio Bassat, who is accused of firing a .357-caliber Magnum handgun out the window of a sport-utility vehicle as his friends sped through the neighborhood.

He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of George Linwood King, a veteran of the Korean War and a retired Bethlehem Steel worker who was known throughout his community simply as "Mister George."

Accused of shooting at two of the boys, Bassat, 30, is also charged with first-degree assault and several handgun offenses.

Defense attorney Larry Pollen told jurors during his opening statement that only one thing is certain.

"This was a terrible tragedy for Mr. King," he said. "Mr. King had nothing to do with what was happening in Turners Station, other than he was walking through the neighborhood. There is no dispute about that. He did not deserve - his family did not deserve - what happened that night."

Pollen told jurors that the case revolves around the family that hosted the Halloween party that night.

"It's about that family feeling very much put upon by their neighbors," he said.

The defense attorney said three people - not including his client - went after the egg throwers with a handgun. "There was a lot of shooting. It went in multiple directions," Pollen said. "It's likely that it is one of those bullets that struck and killed Mr. King."

One of the men Pollen mentioned by name in court pleaded guilty in May to second-degree murder in King's death and use of a handgun in a violent crime.

Jose Emmanuel Otero, 24, of Baltimore was sentenced in September to 25 years in prison. A note in court records indicates in all capital letters that Otero must never be housed with or near Bassat because of death threats made against Otero.

Prosecutors say that Otero was riding in the front seat of the SUV from which Bassat fired into the group of children and at King.

The police investigation quickly stalled in 2004 because so many witnesses refused to cooperate, Schiffer told jurors.

Bassat and Otero were charged in 2006 after those witnesses - including the woman who drove the SUV and two women whom Bassat threatened to kill if they ever told anyone that he admitted shooting "the old man" - finally told the truth, the prosecutor said.

Joseph Fleming was among the group of egg throwers. He said he and his friends were running around the neighborhood that night, throwing eggs at each other to celebrate "movin' night" - the evening before Halloween.

The 16-year-old testified that one of his friends hit the woman in the chest with an egg by mistake and apologized repeatedly. That's when the teenager with the sword chased them, he said.

The police arrived to resolve the dispute, Fleming testified, adding. "I thought it was over."

But about 30 or 45 minutes later, he said, the group of friends saw four or five people coming around the corner toward them.

"Since I was the littlest, they told me to run," he said of his friends. "I heard gunshots. I saw people behind me running. I kept running."

Kia Bean testified that she was driving home from her sister's house in Turners Station that night when she heard about three gunshots and saw sparks coming from the passenger window of a truck that had driven past her at a stop sign.

As she stepped on the brakes to put a little more distance between herself and the truck, Bean said she saw a man on the ground, partially in the street.

Thinking he might be drunk, Bean pulled into a nearby church parking lot and walked over to ask the man why he was lying in the roadway.

"As he tried to answer," she testified, "he huffed and blood came out of his mouth."

King, who raised two granddaughters and helped care for his great-grandchildren when the granddaughters were grown and working, died soon after at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Bassat is serving an eight-year prison term after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in a 2005 killing in Baltimore, court records show.

jennifer.mcmenamin@baltsun.com

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