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Feb 27 2009

Dart Award Winner

A Stolen Soul

Fatal Wounds, and a Jail Revelation

Dr. Theodore M. King took the stand to speak for the dead.

Dr. Theodore M. King took the stand to speak for the dead.

On this January afternoon, the assistant medical examiner would tell the jury how Laurence Jones Jr. died.

Yong Jones left the courtroom as King was sworn in by the clerk. She could not listen to the details of how a bullet ended the life of her only child.

King peered shyly at the jury from behind his glasses. He talked about his work with a quiet reverence, his voice barely above a whisper.

He explained to the jury that, during his career, he had performed 2,600 autopsies. He was on duty the morning in November 1993 when Larry Jones' body was brought to the Baltimore city morgue.

The cause of death was a gunshot wound, he told jurors. The bullet entered the young man's left eyelid, fractured his skull and sent bone slivers into the left side of his brain. The slug also tore through his neck, causing severe injury to his jugular vein.

''How serious were Jones' injuries?'' asked Cassandra Costley, the prosecutor.

''The jugular drains blood from the brain,'' King explained. ''That injury alone will cause death rapidly. The victim bleeds quite a bit, in a range of seconds to minutes.''

''What about the brain injury?'' Costley asked.

King explained that the brain injury also could cause death quickly. The combination of the two lethal wounds meant Larry Jones had almost no chance of surviving.

Some of the jurors shook their heads in apparent horror and disgust. The defendant, James Langhorne, listened to King with interest.

The doctor noted that he also found gunpowder stippling on Larry Jones' face, indicating the gun was fired from within 12 to 18 inches. King said that the victim also suffered several bruises, cuts and scrapes before his death.

''The injuries of arms, legs and chest indicates the deceased had been in a struggle,'' King said. ''The injuries were so fresh they had not had time to heal, indicating they occurred very close to the time of the gunshot wound.''

A few jurors nodded their heads. They wondered whether the gunman beat Larry Jones because he refused to give up his wallet and his gold ring, a gift from his parents that he had treasured.

Langhorne's attorney, Samuel Brave, questioned King about the bruises. He hoped to plant the notion that the victim had been injured during a scuffle with some former friends rather than as a result of getting mugged.

''Suppose 10 minutes before the victim had been shot he'd been in some sort of struggle, could the injuries have been inflicted then?'' Brave asked.

''Yes, that could be possible,'' King answered.

Alfred Brown took the stand next. A wiry, thin man, he wore a red, white and blue running suit.

Brown explained that he and Langhorne used to sell drugs on the streets of southeast Baltimore. He told the jury: ''We used to hang tough.''

Brown said he had taught Langhorne a few tips about pulling robberies. When they saw each other a few years later in prison, Langhorne bragged to Brown that he had robbed a guy. The stickup went bad when the victim put up a struggle.

''So I shot him,'' Langhorne told Brown. ''I got a ring and a wallet.''

Brown told the jury he held onto the information until he needed to trade it for a favor. After walking away from a halfway house in October 1996, Brown was arrested again and decided it was time to snitch on Langhorne.

''Anyone promise you anything for coming forward?'' prosecutor Ilene Nathan asked.

''No.''

As Nathan settled in her seat, Brave stood, scratched his head and walked to the witness stand. He noted that the 10 years Brown faced for escaping from the halfway house disappeared after Brown snitched on Langhorne.

His forehead wrinkling in disbelief, Brave asked: ''So the state didn't have anything hanging over your head?''

''No,'' Brown answered.

Brave grinned. ''You know the system inside out, don't you?''

''I don't,'' Brown said. ''I ain't no career criminal. I've only been locked up twice.''

''You're not going to get a thing out of this?'' Brave asked.

A thin smile sliding across his lips, Brown answered: ''No.''

A few of the jurors smirked at Brown's reply.

Brave moved on to a new series of questions, badgering Brown on what details police had fed him to help his story stand up in court.

''Are you saying under oath, as God is your judge, that detectives never brought up the subject of the ring when you spoke to them?''

''No, James Langhorne told me about it,'' Brown answered.

''Didn't the detectives tell you exactly what they knew before you opened your mouth?''

''No.''

As Brown stepped down from the witness stand, hundreds of starlings flocked to the fourth-floor windows outside Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman's courtroom. Jurors and court spectators stared at the birds as dusk settled over the city. The starlings chirped and flapped their wings as they came home to roost.

The sound of the birds swooping, circling, darting frenetically outside the windows echoed in the courtroom as the judge dismissed the jury until morning.

Langhorne, his wrists and ankles shackled, walked by Yong as she sat on the court bench. He looked away as she searched his face, trying to read his thoughts. He turned to his sister and parents seated in the bench across from Yong. He raised his eyebrows as a sign of hope and told them: ''See you later.''

Yong looked at the accused killer's mother, Joyce Langhorne. She was a petite woman with dark smudges under her eyes. Her face was pinched, sallow. Her brown eyes reflected little light or hope.

''She is a mother like me,'' Yong thought. ''There is so much pain in her eyes.''

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Barbara A. Walsh

  • Barbara A. Walsh is a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter working on special projects for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. Walsh was one of two principal reporters at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, who worked on a yearlong series about Willie Horton Jr., a convicted killer and furlough escapee whose crimes drew attention to the flawed Massachusetts prison system. The series won a 1988 Pulitzer Prize.

David A. Rodgers

  • Rodgers has been a photographer at The Portland Newspapers since 1988. He previously worked for the Rocky Mountain News and the Boston Globe. Rodgers won third place in the National Press Photographers' Association's international pictures of the year contest this year for his work on the newspapers' Island Odyssey series, which ran in the summer of 1996. Rodgers also has won numerous regional and state photography awards.

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