Twins In Pit Bull Case Make First Appearance

Crime Scenes

August 05, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,

Corrections officers escorted the twin brothers into the courtroom together, the smaller one trailing just behind the other, their hands shackled behind their backs, their feet shackled at the ankles. Both wore blue jeans and white T-shirts. They looked younger than their 17 years.

The guards brought them into the sixth-floor room after most of the day's chaotic docket of drugs and violence had concluded and the spectator benches had emptied but for two women. The youths stood in front of Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles G. Bernstein to be arraigned on adult charges that they had weapons in their home on South Pulaski Street.

A spokesman for the city state's attorney's office sat in a jury seat.

A private attorney, Caroline Griffin, who serves as chairwoman of Baltimore's newly formed Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, sat in the back and waited patiently for three hours until the twins, Travers and Tremayne Johnson, were paraded in front of the bench.

Griffin and the spokesman were there because the youths have also been charged as juveniles with fatally setting a pit bull on fire in West Baltimore in May. It was a case that attracted national attention, a reward that far exceeded those handed out for tips in murder cases involving humans and made a hero of a city officer who rescued the dog named Phoenix and smothered the flames with her sweater.

But the defense attorney, the prosecutor and the judge did not bring those topics up at the hearing, reserved exclusively for the young defendants to enter pleas in the gun case and have a trial date set for Oct. 13. Court documents filed in the gun case (they said they were not guilty) name them as suspects in the dog burning, which is scheduled for a separate juvenile hearing this month.

While Bernstein offered opinions on other cases before him Tuesday, there was no similar banter when the Johnson twins' turn came. They were represented by a public defender, but a private attorney will represent one of them. Both are being held without bail.

Tuesday was the first time the youths had been seen in public. Two relatives, including their grandmother, sat in back of the court and talked privately with the public defender when the hearing ended. Neither wanted to talk to reporters and simply shook their heads no as they walked down a courthouse hallway.

While the burning drew national attention and daily news updates - an animal rights group has posted on its Web site a personal plea to the prosecutor, Jennifer Rallo, to "vigorously prosecute" - the judicial proceedings have not generated sustained attention, in part because the brothers were charged in the secretive world of juvenile courts.

It's only now, with them facing adult gun charges stemming from a raid police conducted at their house after the arrest in the dog case, that details are slowly emerging.

The court documents filed in the gun case say the twins were seen "running out an alley with the burning dog" and that the "incident was captured" on police surveillance video. Police arrested them and then raided the family house on Pulaski Street where, according to authorities, they seized a loaded handgun hidden inside a rubber boot, a shotgun and a rifle.

Their 75-year-old father, in a previous interview, said the guns were his, not his sons', and that the twins had nothing to do with burning Phoenix.

Neither twin talked during the hearing; the judge simply entered the not-guilty pleas on their behalf and then made them fill out paperwork. "As soon as you sign, you are free to go, so to speak," the judge told them, knowing they were in handcuffs and leg irons and were definitely not free to go anywhere but back to jail and wait for their next appearance in court, the one everyone is anxiously awaiting.

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