Old shooting victims linked after chance encounter at rehab facility

Shooting victims end up in same place, years after initial contact

September 19, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

It took 21 years for a bullet to kill Michael Chase.

It took 14 years for a bullet to kill Franklin Spencer.

And it took both of their deaths — six years apart — for investigators to figure out what one had to do with the other.

Chase was shot once in the neck on Aug. 20, 1988, as he walked in the 1500 block of Hopewell Court, a now-defunct street in West Baltimore where high-rises once loomed. The 26-year-old lay on the ground until a jogger found him. He was taken to a hospital where he remained in critical condition, unable to move his body.

He survived but became a paraplegic, moving from hospital to hospital, from rehab facility to rehab facility, until he ended up at Millennium Health and Rehab.

That's where he met Spencer.

Spencer had been shot, too, in March of 1990, struck three times after getting into an argument with another man. He was 25 at the time, and would spend his life in a wheelchair as he also moved among rehab facilities and then to Millennium.

After years of struggle and pain, both men eventually succumbed to their wounds. Spencer died in 2004, Chase in 2009.

In several cases each year, a large amount of time has passed between a victim's shooting and death. But when the medical examiner determines that the death was a result of complications from the gunshot wound, the death goes down as a homicide counted in the year in which the victim died.

Though shot in 1988, Chase became homicide victim No. 154 of 2009.

But when detectives contacted Chase's sister shortly after his death to close out the file, she had new information on the case.

She said Chase had met his shooter while in a rehab facility, police said. It was Spencer, who she knew from the neighborhood and who she said confessed to shooting Chase by accident, her brother told her. The shooter had chalked it up to a target-practice mishap, she said.

The new information prompted detectives to take a look at Spencer. As it turned out, Spencer's death five years earlier had occurred without an autopsy being performed, according to police spokesman Kevin Brown.

A spokeswoman from the state medical examiner's office did not return a phone message.

Because of the medical examiner's office guidelines, once authorities realized that Spencer's injuries were from gunshot wounds, he became a homicide victim.

And so, Chase's death ended up making the death of Spencer, the man who shot him nearly 22 years earlier, finally and properly classified as a homicide.

After being dead for six years, Spencer last month became the 131st victim of 2010.

Attempts to reach relatives of both men were unsuccessful, and police would not make detectives available for an interview to discuss the case.

Spencer's death did not go unsolved, either. Police said that a man was charged at the time of the shooting with attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Court records indicate that man has since been released.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com



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