A Stolen Soul

Yong Jones was ready to look into the eyes of the killer.

She had waited 4 years for this moment. She had fought, pleaded and prayed for it.

On this January morning the state of Maryland would begin to present its case against James Wilbur Langhorne, the man accused of shooting Yong's son during a robbery.

''I feel like ice,'' Yong said as she boarded the hotel bus that would take her to the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.

''Why am I so scared?'' Yong asked her friend, Brenda Lawson.

''Because it's a scary thing to look at the person that probably killed your son,'' Brenda told her. ''You will take one step at a time like we've been doing all along. Think of all the days you thought that you weren't going to make it, that you were never going to get justice. This is the finale. This is it.''

''I will finish the job,'' Yong said.

To calm her nerves, Yong thought of a time when both her son and husband were proud of her. She remembered the July 4, 1992, afternoon when she spoke in downtown Bangor to help raise money for a Korean War memorial. Moments before she was to speak, her husband, a Korean War veteran, tried to calm his nervous wife. ''It's all right, honey,'' he told her. ''You can do it.''

Yong talked that day about growing up in Inchon, about watching the North Korean soldiers murder her neighbors, burn her city, bomb her home. She also spoke of the American soldiers who invaded Inchon Harbor and sacrificed their lives to rescue her people. She told the holiday crowd: ''The price for freedom isn't cheap. The price for freedom is lives and we should never take that for granted.''

After her speech, her son turned to her with pride and said: ''That's my mother.''

Now, on the bus ride to the courthouse, the memory comforted her.

''Yes, I can do this,'' she whispered. ''Justice.'' MUGGING TURNED MURDER: Laurence Jones Jr. was robbed and shot on Nov. 20, 1993 in the 1400 block of Bank Street.

ATwo men were seen waiting at a phone booth on the corner of Eden and Bank streets at 2:30 a.m. in the morning Jones was killed. Police suspected the men were looking for victims to rob.

BJones was shot in the face sometime before 3 a.m. He was left to die a few doors from his apartment, at 1405 Bank Street.

CJames W. Langhorne, the man arrested in November 1996 and charged with murdering Jones, lived a few blocks away from the murder scene in a Ballou Court housing project.

Dee Gardner, an employee of the Maryland State's Attorney's Office, greeted Yong at the courthouse and guided her to a waiting room. There, she and her family and Brenda waited on black vinyl chairs.

Just before noon, Gardner returned to tell Yong: ''It's time. The trial's going to start now.''

Yong rose quickly, then collapsed back in her seat. Her sister reached for Yong's arm to hold her up. Her nephew took her other arm. With their help, Yong walked slowly down the polished black-and-white tiles of the courthouse hallway.

''Are you ready?'' Brenda asked as they stood outside the wood-paneled door leading into Courtroom 14.

Yong nodded. They entered, and Yong took a seat in the second row of the courtroom. She squeezed her sister's hand and told her: ''Junior's soul is here.''

Yong studied the back of the man accused of murdering her son. He was young - 24 years old, the same age her son was when he was killed. Langhorne was dressed casually in a gray sweat shirt, jeans and sneakers. His hair was shaved short. His beard and moustache were trimmed neatly.

''He looks like a human,'' Yong thought. ''He must have a mother.''

Overwhelmed, she bent over, taking a deep breath.

''At this time the state calls the case of James W. Langhorne,'' the clerk said.

Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman stared down at the attorneys from her ornate marble bench. The two prosecutors stood and announced their names: Ilene J. Nathan and Cassandra Costley.

Nathan, the lead prosecutor, braced herself for a tough battle. She'd tried to prepare Yong for the worst. A veteran prosecutor, Nathan knew the evidence was weak. If she had to place any bets on the verdict, Nathan would've put money on ''not guilty.''

A curly-haired man in his early 60s stood by Langhorne. ''Sam Brave for the defense, your honor.''

Feeling dizzy, Yong struggled to stand and walked out of the courtroom. Just outside the door, she collapsed to the floor.

A bailiff called for an ambulance while someone else helped Yong to a hallway bench, where she lay down.

''You should go home,'' the bailiff told her.

''No, I'm the only one left,'' Yong cried. ''I have to stay. I have to make it. I have to hear every word for my husband, for my son.''

When the paramedics arrived with a stretcher, Yong refused to go to the hospital.

''I'm OK,'' she said as she clutched her locket.

Inside the courtroom, Judge Friedman spent the afternoon listening to Brave argue about photo lineups during which Langhorne was identified as the man seen running from the murder scene. Brave wanted the judge to prevent the state from using the photo lineups as evidence. The judge denied his request and court adjourned at 4:30.

Langhorne, handcuffed and shackled, was escorted from the courtroom. Yong stood as he stepped into the hallway. She wanted him to see her face. She wanted him to know she was the mother of the young man he robbed, shot and left to die on the sidewalk.

Langhorne glanced at Yong and quickly looked away.

Later that night, Yong saw his eyes again as she tried to sleep. ''What did I see? Is he hiding guilt? Is it remorse? Is he really the one who shot Junior?''

The police had told her they believed Langhorne was the shooter. He'd bragged about killing her son to another inmate and he had showed the spoils of the robbery, a gold ring and a wallet, to his girlfriend. Though the evidence pointed to Langhorne, Yong relied on her intuition to tell her who fired a bullet into her son's face.

''I'm a mother,'' Yong told herself. ''I do have instincts. He's the one.''