When a man is alleged to have cut in front of him in line at a crab cake joint, Keith Anthony Rantin Jr. pulled a knife. When a man came to his house to retrieve some commercial painting equipment, the Baltimore man pulled a gun.
A Baltimore jury this week convicted Rantin, 33, on three misdemeanor charges in the shooting of Kelly Myers. In acquitting Rantin of the most serious charge against him - attempted murder - the jury sided with Rantin's attorney, who argued that his client acted in self-defense when he shot the painting contractor in the face and back with a shotgun.
The verdict came 18 months after Rantin pleaded guilty in the 2006 stabbing of Jeffrey Rites at the G&M Restaurant and Lounge in Linthicum Heights.
In the crab-cake and painting-equipment incidents, attorney Kenneth Ravenell argued that the victims were armed and provoked Rantin. Also in both cases, prosecutors argued that the victims did little if anything to warrant the attacks.
In the crab-cake case, video showed that after an exchange of insults and shoves, the unarmed victim turned away from the dispute. Rantin then approached from behind, took a knife from his pocket and stabbed Rites in the side, said Michael Dunty, who prosecuted the stabbing case.
In the second case, prosecutor Nicole Lomartire told a jury that all Myers did was show up at the house about 9 p.m. April 5, 2007, asking for his paint sprayer back. Myers and a team of painters had been working on Rantin's house in the 1400 block of W. Pratt St. and had left the paint gun there.
"This is not the wild, wild West," Lomartire said in closing arguments. "You can't go out and shoot somebody for knocking on your door. ... You especially don't go downstairs and get your shotgun and shoot it at an unarmed man."
Dunty, of the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, said it is clear that Rantin has problems controlling his temper.
"It's pretty safe to say that anyone involved with stabbing someone from behind over a food order has anger-management issues," he said.
But Baltimore prosecutors could not tell the jury about the dispute over cutting in line at G&M, or about the other assault convictions on Rantin's record. In almost all criminal cases, the state must prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt on the facts of that case alone - rather than establish a pattern of violence.
And Ravenell was able to convince a jury that Myers or someone who was with him may have fired a handgun first. Ravenell argued that Myers did not arrive at Rantin's doorstep alone; he had two men with him.
After Rantin told the men to come back later, he feared they would break into his home, where his children were playing computer games, the attorney said. Ravenell said Rantin went inside, retrieved the shotgun from the basement and came back.
"As he looked around to see where the men who had surrounded his house went, shots were fired and he returned fire," Ravenell said.
Rantin's next-door neighbor, Tyjuan Coles, was hit by gunfire as he walked outside that night. Exactly when and by whom he was shot is in dispute.
Ravenell claimed Coles was struck when Myers or one of his associates opened fire, but prosecutors argued that the neighbor was shot in a completely unrelated incident erupting at virtually the same time.
A handgun and more than a half-dozen shell casings from that gun were found nearby, but Myers' hands were never tested for gunshot residue.
Rantin also called 911, reporting that several men had shot up his house. But according to charging documents, officers spotted him leaving a side door of his house with two children. When they stopped him, Rantin said he had not "witnessed the shooting" and "only heard voices arguing outside his front door."
Myers, meanwhile, fled on foot. He testified that he never heard any handgun fire, even though police and medics found him a few blocks away.
"I think that in each one of these cases the evidence supports [self-defense]," Ravenell said. "No one wishes more than Mr. Rantin that he didn't find himself in these situations. ... And it's gratifying when a jury recognizes a citizen's right to defend himself and his family."
Rantin was free at the time of the shooting because his first trial in Anne Arundel County had ended in a hung jury. That was about two months before the confrontation with Myers at Rantin's home.
After being charged in Baltimore with the attempted murder of Myers, Rantin's bail was revoked by an Anne Arundel County judge. And in July 2007, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Michele D. Jaklitsch accepted a plea deal.
She put Rantin on five years of probation and required him to pay $25,000 in restitution to Rites, who suffered a punctured lung, spent nine days in intensive care and suffered severe damage to his hand, which also was stabbed. He accrued $54,000 in medical bills.
Dunty said that he strongly objected to sparing Rantin a prison sentence in the attack at G&M. But Jaklitsch said at sentencing that it was more important for the victim to receive compensation than for the attacker to go to prison.
Sentencing in the West Baltimore shooting is scheduled for Feb. 23.
Meanwhile, Rantin has another case pending. In June, a contractor accused Rantin of stealing $2,100 worth of rented scaffolding from the 1700 block of W. Fayette St.
Trial in that case is scheduled for Jan. 22 in Baltimore District Court.