Baltimore teen charged in her grandmother's death after argument

November 20, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,

It started as an argument between a 16-year-old and her grandmother over photos hanging on the girl's bedroom wall. But when 69-year-old Eunice Taylor died of a heart attack moments after being held down by her wrists on a bed by her granddaughter, it became murder, police and prosecutors say.

Jabreria Handy, who lived with her grandparents in Northeast Baltimore, turned herself in Friday - four days after her 17th birthday - and was charged as an adult with second-degree murder after the medical examiner ruled that the assault led to Taylor's fatal heart attack. Handy is among the youngest to be charged with murder this year in Baltimore.

"Obviously, a case like this is very unique and not something we deal with all the time," said Sgt. Steve Hohman, who investigated the case. "On one hand, you're dealing with the death of a mom, a grandmom and a wife, and the person who's responsible is a young relative. It's difficult all the way around."

At the family home this week, a letter addressed to Handy from the enrollment office of a West Virginia college and clear garbage bags full of women's clothing sat on the porch. Victor Taylor, Eunice Taylor's husband, answered the door with tears on his cheeks.

"We've been together a long time," he said of his wife. "She's really missed."

The charges were filed more than three weeks after the Oct. 20 incident. David Addison, an assistant public defender in the juvenile division, said he is awaiting a copy of the medical examiner's report to determine what might have persuaded prosecutors to file charges against his client after initially opting not to do so.

"It didn't seem like there was anything that was that kind of wanton and reckless behavior on Jabreria's part," Addison said. "I haven't had an opportunity to investigate it, and maybe there's something in the report that shows more was going on."

But Handy's mother - Taylor's daughter - said the charges are inappropriate. In a phone interview with her and her husband, she said that her mother had heart problems and that it was unfair to say that her daughter's actions caused her death.

"They're trying to make her look like a criminal, and she's not a criminal," said Carolyn Riddick. "They were very close - they always had their little problems, had a few words, but that was that. And they'd be sitting down later on, watching movies and eating popcorn together."

Taylor was at home in the Glenham-Belford neighborhood about 9:15 p.m. Oct. 20 when Handy, a 12th-grader on track to graduate from Samuel L. Banks High School, arrived and began arguing over photographs hanging in her bedroom, according to charging documents.

Handy pushed Taylor onto a bed, got on top of her and pinned her arms against the bed by holding her wrists as Taylor tried to break free, charging documents allege. Handy's 15-year-old brother pulled her away, and she went to a neighbor's house.

Taylor called 911 and walked to the front porch to rest. But by the time the first police officer arrived, Taylor had lost consciousness and was not breathing. She was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Handy was taken to the homicide unit to be interviewed. She admitted pushing Taylor down on the bed and holding her arms down, police said. She was transported to juvenile detention and released pending an investigation. At that point, police said, the case was being treated as a second-degree assault as investigators waited for a determination from the medical examiner's office.

Three weeks after the autopsy, the medical examiner's office ruled Nov. 12 that Taylor's death was a homicide, determining that she had suffered the heart attack as a result of the assault.

Addison said the charge of second-degree murder suggests that prosecutors acknowledge that Handy did not intend to kill her grandmother.

Julie Drake, who heads the Baltimore state's attorney's felony family violence unit and is not associated with the Handy case, said second-degree murder cases involve killings that are not premeditated or planned. To reach a guilty verdict, a jury must find that the defendant knew of the risk to the victim and acted with extreme disregard.

Handy, whose first name is also spelled Jabriera in some court documents, turned herself in Friday accompanied by her mother, Addison said, after learning that she was about to be charged. Handy was ordered held on $150,000 bond, and a district judge denied a request to have her transferred from the women's detention center to the Waxter Center for Girls. Addison said defense attorneys will try again to have her moved to a facility for juveniles.

Police said family members had reported that Handy had been getting "more and more unruly" at home, but her public defender said she had no juvenile or criminal record. Addison said Handy came under her grandparents' care through CINA - or "child in need of assistance" - proceedings when she was a small child. Such cases are typically initiated in cases of neglect or abuse, though details were not available.

Handy is among the youngest to be charged with murder this year in the city. A youth who is two months younger was charged with first-degree murder in September after police said he shot another teen during a robbery. Farron Tates was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison after killing a relative this year, at age 15. And several youths were involved in the death of Zachary Sowers, who was beaten into a coma during an attack in Canton, but they pleaded guilty to other charges before he died.

Handy's case is eligible to be waived back to juvenile court, officials said.

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