Anguished mom gets closure as daughter’s killer found guilty

Her son also killed years later, after joining Marines

April 28, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Her son was killed just after he became a Marine.

Her daughter was killed as she was beginning a career as a nurse.

Now, after more than 12 years of mourning and painful memories, justice has been delivered to the murderers of both of Cherand Monroe's children. The second conviction was Friday.

Monroe couldn't bear to visit the courtroom during the latest trial and came only once, when she had to testify. She had to look at the man who had raped and stabbed her daughter, Jerrisha Burton, and left the naked body wrapped in a blue comforter in the back seat of a tan Mercury Cougar parked on Fillmore Street.

"I didn't want to see that gentleman," said Monroe, her voice cracked by tears.

But she had to tell the jury that she had never before seen the suspect or heard his name. The June 2007 murder of Jerrisha had been random, authorities said, a stranger preying on a stranger. The prosecutor wanted Monroe's words to get that point across.

The panel heard a week of testimony but needed just three hours to convict 42-year-old Ernest Roy Rivers of felony murder, first-degree rape and armed robbery.

Murder can still shock, even in a city where it's not so unusual for one mother to lose two or even three children to violence.

The lives of Cherand Monroe's two children seemed full of promise. Both were 18 when they were killed. Each had graduated from high school — Jerrisha from the former Northern High, and Michael LaMaris Simms from Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School.

Monroe has one more court hearing to endure, and she hasn't decided whether to attend. Rivers is to be sentenced July 7, and he could receive life in prison. Her son's killer, Maurice Crosby, 22, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2007 and sentenced to two years in prison. Court records show he's out on probation.

Monroe said she accepts the short sentence of her son's killer, explaining she doesn't believe her son's attacker meant to kill him, but actually was trying to stab somebody else. Her son, she said, "was in the wrong place at the wrong time defending the wrong person."

But she wants her daughter's killer imprisoned forever.

"Oh my goodness, she was the light of everybody's life," Monroe said. "I could never understand why anybody would want to do harm to her, because she's never harmed anybody."

Monroe grew up in Sparrows Point, with the quintessential Baltimore story. Her father and grandfather worked at Bethlehem Steel. She recalled Saturday jaunts on the No. 10 bus line — fare 35 cents — to shop at Hochschild-Kohn's on Howard Street and take in a matinee with friends.

Before every outing, Monroe's mother warned her that if a stranger approached, or she saw anyone that worried her in the least, to not talk to that person and walk quickly to a police post or a call box. It was the early 1970s, and the city was still foreboding to a young girl from the suburbs.

Life in Sparrows Point had been bucolic, she had told her children, so often and so emphatically that they stopped believing her. "We had no crime, no prejudice," Monroe said. "My children kept saying, ‘Mom, no place could be that good.' " But she stood fast, describing her childhood as if "God had his arms wrapped around me."

Monroe said when her parents told her in 1973 that the family would be moving to the city she quickly shot them a glare.

"What city? Which city?" she cried. It was to Northeast Baltimore, and the concerns she once harbored about the city have not abated.

While Monroe reluctantly took the witness stand last week, she was eager to tell jurors about her daughter, whom everyone called Risha. She had reached the age where she could drive without an adult in the car, and had worked with her best friend at a Wendy's on Joppa Road.

Burton had gone to the old Veterans Administration building in Northeast Baltimore to apply for a nurse's aide job but discovered it had closed and moved downtown. She never made it to the new office.

It was shortly after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 1998, when Burton drove to a friend's house. "I love you," Monroe said as her daughter walked out the door. " ‘Oh, mommy, I'll be back,' " came the reply.

Her body was found the next afternoon. Police said she had been raped, stabbed 10 times in the body, face and neck, and had been cut an additional 18 times. She had stood 6 feet tall and weighed 180 pounds, and her kisses were so powerful they left imprints on her mother's cheek. Monroe said her daughter's face was swollen when her body was found, and she surmises that the attacker "probably had to knock her out because she was fighting."

The case went unsolved for a decade and was considered cold. But Rivers was charged in January 2007, after his DNA, taken after a previous conviction, was matched to evidence from Burton's rape and murder. Monroe told her son, Simms, the good news the day he graduated from Marine Corps training on Parris Island, S.C., a few weeks later.

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