Man shot in '92 dies, becomes latest city homicide

Medical examiner says man died of complications from shooting

March 03, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Nearly two decades after he was shot and paralyzed in an East Baltimore carryout, James Fields Jr. has died of complications from the shooting, making him the city's 26th homicide victim of 2011.

Fields, 47, of Gwynn Oak, died Jan. 5 at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, said Detective Donny Moses, a city police spokesman. A medical examiner concluded that Fields died of pneumonia brought on by a prolonged stay in bed — a direct result of the shooting 19 years ago — and on Tuesday ruled his death a homicide.

There are typically several so-called time-delayed deaths in Baltimore each year in which people die of complications from bullets fired long ago. Their deaths are added to the city's homicide count in the year when they're ruled homicides, partly to avoid updating statistics from previous years.

At least three people who were shot in previous years — 1982, 1990 and 2009 — died in 2010. In 2009, the number of delayed deaths was 13, including victims of violence dating to 1988 and 1993. Seven of the deaths were added late in the year, helping to push the city's final homicide tally to 238, four more than in 2008.

Each case offers its own twists and turns, sometimes finally bringing closure.

For example, two men who had been shot in 1988 and 1990 later met in a rehabilitation home, and it wasn't until after both had died, one in 2004 and one in 2009, that a relative learned last year that one had accidentally shot the other.

And in 1994, a man who had been shot in 1962 died of a blood clot in Richmond, Va. The medical examiner there ruled that the shooting put the victim in a wheelchair which caused the clot to form 32 years later, and therefore was a homicide. That wasn't even the oldest case that year — another man died of a wound he had suffered in 1959.

City prosecutors in 1994 complained about the medical examiner's rulings, questioning the credibility of making a direct link from bullet wound to death after three or four decades.

The law has only recently caught up to medical advances that can keep injured people alive for years. Maryland used to have the "year and a day" law, which stated that a death must occur within 366 days of the original injury for murder charges to be filed.

It was designed to ensure that suspects were charged only in crimes that directly resulted from an assault, rather than from prolonged medical problems. The law was abolished in 1996 but was not made retroactive, meaning it still applies in cases where a victim was wounded before 1996.

The law prevented prosecutors from filing murder charges in the death of a man in 2007 who had been shot and paralyzed 30 years earlier.

This most recent case would also fall under the "year and a day" law, but the suspect in Fields' case is also protected by double-jeopardy laws.

Police said detectives arrested Hercules Thomas of the 900 block of N. Calvert St. and charged him with attempted first-degree murder and handgun violations on the day of the shooting. Thomas was 54 at the time.

Court records show that Thomas was tried but found not criminally responsible by a jury and sent to Clifton T. Perkins, a state psychiatric hospital. It was unclear what happened to Thomas. Authorities said that even if he's alive, he cannot be charged with murder in the case.

The shooting occurred in a carryout in the 1900 block of Greenmount Ave. Police said Fields had been talking with the owner when the owner's son, Thomas, opened fire "without warning." Moses said other customers were inside at the time, but Fields was the only person struck by bullets.

Fields was hit repeatedly and as a result lost the use of his legs. Moses said Thomas fired from a five-shot revolver and emptied the gun. "Witnesses said he continued to pull the trigger even after [shooting] all the rounds," Moses said.

The city's new homicide count of 26 for 2011 is one more than at the same time last year.

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