I had hoped that a video of a juvenile court hearing would help explain how a teenager with a long criminal record who had just been arrested in a drug bust could be sent home from a detention center only to be charged with killing a man two hours later in the front seat of a Buick Park Avenue.
Unfortunately, what I saw not only fails to explain why state officials freed 17-year-old Maurice Brown, but it raises new questions about the case, while revealing proposed procedural changes that would make it easier for more young offenders to avoid detention.
Police arrested Brown at 10 p.m. May 7 and charged him with selling purple-topped vials of heroin to motorists on North Longwood Street. Officers took him to the juvenile center on Gay Street a few hours later. A case worker for Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services did what is called a "risk assessment."
I viewed his juvenile record, which shows a dozen prior arrests, most dealing with drugs and violence dating to his 12th birthday, including sustained charges of discharging a firearm, assault, drug distribution and unauthorized use of a car.
Law enforcement sources told me he scored a 13 on the risk assessment. That score is tallied by a computer that assigns points to various categories of arrests in the suspect's past, and while 13 is considered high, it was not high enough to require that he be detained.
Prosecutors complained to me that the assessment tool does not give enough weight to drug offenses, which they believe show a propensity toward violence.
Brown was put on what is called "alternative detention," which can include going home. His guardian picked him up about 4:30 a.m. and took him to their house in the 2900 block of Elgin Ave.
At 6:39 a.m., police were called to the 3000 block of Elgin Ave. a block from Brown's house. They found Deontae Carter, 25, lying face down in the Buick, shot several times in the head and body.
At 2:34 p.m., with police still searching for a suspect in the Elgin Avenue killing, a prosecutor on Gay Street stood in front of a juvenile master and called the "emergency arraignment" in the drug case involving Maurice Brown.
They didn't realize at that moment that Brown had been sent home. That is the hearing I was allowed to view, after The Baltimore Sun argued that the proceeding should be open and a circuit judge agreed. The 1-minute, 38-second recording offered me a glimpse into the confusing system.
Not knowing that Brown had been sent home, and not seeing him or his attorney in the courtroom, Assistant State's Attorney Benjamin Davis nearly asked for a warrant for the young man's arrest. But he consulted with his superiors and came back into court.
"What was told to me by my office," he said, "was that the respondent's mother ... had to take him home with her, and so I was told by my office we could set this matter in for a regular arraignment date."
Juvenile Master James P. Casey appeared equally confused: "OK, we actually - that's a procedure that we're just starting to develop. So this is the first time we've done it."
The confusion stemmed from a new practice that a committee chaired by Casey is trying to adopt. Under the current way of doing things - and the rules here have always been informal - a juvenile arrested at night has had until 8 a.m. to be picked up by a guardian and taken home. If no one comes, the juvenile is held for a court appearance.
Under the new practice, the deadline for pickup would be extended to 11 a.m.
Casey later told me that this new way of doing things is still being developed, and that he had mistakenly thought at the outset that Brown had been taken home under the new procedures. That turned out to be wrong, he said, and the hearing had been put on the docket erroneously.
Authorities had released Brown under guidelines in place for years, and they contend that proper procedures were followed. In fact, they insisted that there is no timeline for releasing minors to their guardians and that if the guardians refuse to take them or do not show up, the children are either sent to detention or to a shelter to await a court hearing.
Either way, it does not appear that Brown benefited from any mix-up; it appears he had been released under the current procedures. Casey set a June 4 arraignment date for the drug charge, and Brown attended.
The murder charge came later. Police issued a warrant June 26, charging Brown as an adult, and arrested him Sept. 1. He is being held without bail in the city's detention center while he awaits trial.
The emergency arraignment hearing raised more questions than answers, and state officials, citing confidentiality laws protecting juveniles, said they could not tell us why Maurice Brown was sent home after his drug arrest only to be charged with killing a man two hours later.
"I can't speak to the specifics of the case," said Robert J. Johnson, a spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services.