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Woman's death in burglary leaves Southeast Baltimore reeling

Law EnforcementTheftHomicideDining and Drinking

For the second time in her life, Grace Leto will have to bury a child.

In 1983, she said, her 18-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident in Baltimore. On Friday, another daughter, Kimberly Leto, 51, was stabbed to death after she happened upon two teenagers attempting to burglarize her home, Baltimore police said.

"She was a very vibrant, wonderful woman," Grace Leto, 78, said by phone. "I can't really talk about it."

Baltimore District Judge Rachel E. Cogen on Monday called Leto's murder "a tragedy … on all accounts" as she ordered suspects Alonzo Gorham-Ramos, 14, and Allen Pinkney, 16, held pending further developments in the case.

Leto's killing has frustrated neighborhood leaders, who say it shows police must step up enforcement efforts in the relatively affluent area.

Del. Luke Clippinger said he has invited the police commissioner to a public meeting in Southeast Baltimore next week to help address concerns in the aftermath of Leto's death, and community leaders say they are flooding Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake with requests for additional officers.

Court testimony and police records provided a chilling account of the incident that has shocked Leto's Highlandtown neighbors and patrons at O'Donnell's Pub, a neighborhood spot in nearby Canton where she was worked behind the bar.

Gorham-Ramos had previously been arrested in a summer burglary of Leto's home, police said, an incident in which she awoke to find him making off with electronics and other valuables. Authorities believe he returned there with Pinkney this weekend, and the two attacked her when she found them.

Both Gorham-Ramos and Pinkney have been charged as adults on counts that include first-degree murder, possession of a dangerous weapon with intent to injure, and burglary.

Gorham-Ramos, an eighth-grader who attended Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology, told Cogen he had a daughter. As he stood before the judge, he asked to be granted bail to see her.

"I understand you want to be home with your daughter," Cogen responded. But she told the young defendant that she had to consider whether he posed a danger to the public, and she denied him bail, though she also signed off on his transfer from an adult cell to a juvenile detention center.

Pinkney, wearing the same white T-shirt with black sleeves that he wore in his booking photo, did not get a chance to have his bail specifications reviewed.

His attorney, Jan Bledsoe, said she had concerns about whether Pinkney understood the charges against him. She asked the judge to allow a mental competency evaluation before his case continues.

After the hearing, Bledsoe said Pinkney was not giving "answers in context" to the questions she had asked. She said Pinkney had been off his prescribed medication and has missed medical treatments. She did not elaborate on his health problems but said his case should be handled carefully given the "horrendous crime" police say he committed.

The judge agreed to postpone Pinkney's hearing to Tuesday to allow for further evaluation.

Because he turned 16 on Jan. 21, Pinkney was ineligible for transfer to the juvenile detention center and is denied special services given to children by the Maryland justice system, Bledsoe said.

Police arrested both teens after detectives linked Gorham-Ramos to the previous burglary of Leto's home.

On Aug. 19, according to a police report, Leto told an officer that she was asleep in the living room of her home in the 400 block of S. Ellwood Ave. when she woke up to a 5-foot-9 black male in a purple hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans.

He was trying to grab a laptop lying nearby on the floor. When the suspect realized he had been spotted, he abandoned the computer and ran out the rear kitchen door. Leto gave chase before she lost him.

When she returned home, the police report said, she realized her iPhone and iPad were missing from her kitchen counter and $40 had been stolen from a kitchen drawer. Her keys were also gone.

Police investigated and identified Gorham-Ramos through fingerprints, court records show.

Nearly six months later, officers arrived at Leto's home after someone reported a suspicious death. A statement of probable cause filed in court shows they found her in her living room with multiple stab wounds to her chest and back. The rear first-floor kitchen window was unlocked and open.

Detectives believe the teens came in the backyard and brought a lawn chair up to the kitchen window. Another resident at the home told police that a black iPad and other belongings were also missing.

A bloody Adidas shoeprint had been left behind.

After learning of the earlier burglary, detectives brought Gorham-Ramos and his mother to police headquarters for an interview. There, police said, a detective noticed he was wearing Adidas tennis shoes that matched the shoeprints found at the crime scene.

Police said Gorham-Ramos confessed that he and Pinkney had been burglarizing Leto's home when she woke up. Gorham-Ramos said he and Pinkney stabbed her multiple times, court records show.

On Monday patrons and friends expressed their condolences and anger on a Facebook page for O'Donnell's Pub in Canton, where Leto worked as a bartender. "How can humans do this?" one man wrote.

The pub posted two photos of Leto, including one in which she is shown behind the bar with both arms raised in jubilation.

"She was just a positive soul," said Tanja Booth, a bartender at O'Donnell's, which is not far from where Leto was killed. "She just lit up the room. She was just one of those people who was always funny and happy. She just made everybody happy."

Leto worked occasionally at the pub but was considered part of O'Donnell's "family," Booth said.

Residents in Southeast Baltimore have been unnerved by the notion that a resident would be killed by apparent strangers in the security of her home overlooking Patterson Park.

City Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents the area, has said he is increasingly frustrated that the city has not heeded his calls for more officers on foot patrol.

Mike Beczkowski, who leads neighborhood crime awareness walks in Canton, said he doesn't understand why the mayor's office or police haven't responded to Kraft's requests.

He said neighborhoods in Southeast Baltimore are "the wealthiest in the city" and "prone to more criminal attacks like this."

"Despite repeated requests, the mayor says we can't have them and has sent them elsewhere," Beczkowski said. "We plan on flooding her office with calls and emails until we do."

He has advised residents to take their own safety precautions. "Our advice is for everyone to get a burglary system to help prevent break-ins," Beczkowski said. "Our safety requires ongoing vigilance."

Kevin Harris, spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor has shown in the past that she will deploy additional officers to neighborhoods when residents ask for help. He did not say whether she would do so in this case.

"Where we can meet those needs we certainly work hard to do so, because as she has said, public safety is her top priority and we have to have an all-hands-on-deck mentality," Harris said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Justin Fenton and Erica L. Green contributed to this article.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justingeorge

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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