After 13 hours of deliberations, a Baltimore County jury convicted a Baltimore man yesterday of second-degree murder in the death of a great-grandfather who was fatally shot while walking through his Dundalk neighborhood at dusk the night before Halloween in 2004.
Jose Antonio Bassat, 30, who is serving an eight-year sentence for second-degree murder in a Baltimore killing, was accused of shooting at a group of young boys who had been throwing eggs and shooting BB guns in their Turners Station neighborhood.
George Linwood King, a 73-year-old veteran of the Korean War and a retired Bethlehem Steel worker who was known in the community as "Mister George" was fatally wounded.
His granddaughters - whom he raised - sobbed in the courtroom after the verdicts were announced. They later declined to comment on the case.
"It's been a long road for this family," prosecutor Stephanie Porter said of King's relatives. "The question for this family was, `Why did this happen? How could this come to be over some eggs?' No one could make sense of it."
Four days of testimony at trial revealed that a group of middle school boys were running through their neighborhood on Oct. 30, 2004, making mischief in celebration of "movin' night," the evening before Halloween.
When an egg hit one woman 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 took at least one gun when they went looking for the boys.
Prosecutors told jurors that Bassat fired a .357-caliber Magnum handgun out a window of a sport utility vehicle as his friends sped through the neighborhood. A bullet struck King in a major artery of his leg.
Bassat and another man were charged two years after the shooting when several witnesses - including the woman who drove the SUV and two women whom Bassat threatened to kill if they told anyone that he admitted shooting "the old man" - finally told the truth, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney Larry Polen argued that several men - not including his client - went after the egg throwers with a handgun and that it was impossible to tell who fired the bullet that killed King.
Attorneys in the case said the jury's decision to acquit Bassat of first-degree murder but convict him of second-degree murder suggested that jurors struggled to sort out the events of the night.
"I think that the jury reached a compromise," Polen said. "It's obvious based on the time that they took that there was a lot of discussion in terms of trying to figure out what happened."
In addition to acquitting Bassat of first-degree murder, the jury also found him not guilty of assault and handgun charges in connection with shots fired at one of the egg throwers.
The other man charged in King's death, Jose Emmanuel Otero, 24, of Baltimore was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and use of a handgun in a violent crime.
Prosecutors said they will ask for the maximum sentence - 30 years in prison in addition to the prison term he is now serving - when Bassat is sentenced in April.