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Crime

Neighborhood activist grapples with son's alleged role in murder

Charging documents show bicyclist tried to fend off attackers before fatal stabbing in Waverly

When she heard the news of another violent death in her Waverly community, neighborhood activist Thomascine Greene promised to attend a vigil for the victim and pray for his family.

Later that night, detectives came to her home and arrested her 15-year-old son for his alleged involvement in the murder.

Prince Greene is the third teenager charged as an adult with attacking Robert Ponsi as he bicycled through Waverly on Saturday night on his way home from his job as a server at a Harbor East restaurant.

"It's not hard for me to wrap my head around it, because he's a kid in the community," the mother said in an interview. "It's hard to wrap my heart around it."

A light snow began to fall as more than 100 people came together Tuesday night — Ponsi's 30th birthday — at the corner where he was attacked.

The group huddled in a circle, holding flickering candles and taking turns speaking. A community association representative handed Ponsi's mother a bouquet of flowers. A local pastor put his hand on her shoulder as he prayed aloud. Neighbors sang "We Shall Not Be Moved."

Dawn Ponsi drew laughs as she told the crowd how her son, a "homebody" who disliked pomp and circumstance, "would've hated this." She thanked everyone for their love and support nonetheless.

"No family should have to go through this," she said.

She said later that she had read about Thomascine Greene's pain and was moved.

"To a certain degree, my heart goes out to her as well," Ponsi said. "It's always an us-against-them mentality, with the victim's family against the accused." Thinking about the other mother, she said, "gave me a different perspective."

Police wrote in charging documents that a group of teens surrounded Ponsi, who got off his bike, picked it up and began waving it in an attempt to fend them off. He was knocked to the ground, kicked and punched as the attackers yelled "Get his wallet!," witnesses told police. At some point, he was stabbed.

The first- and second-degree murder charges against Prince Greene followed the arrests Sunday of Antwan Eldridge, 17, and Daquan Middleton, 16. Both were charged as adults with murder, armed robbery and assault and were being held without bond.

Greene, 66, said she was stunned by her son's arrest. She said he returned home Saturday before the 9:30 p.m. curfew she had set, and she ordered him a pizza.

Police said Ponsi was attacked about 9:10 p.m.

Greene said she had no inkling at the time of the attack to which police now are connecting her son.

She said she is keeping an open mind that he may be wrongly charged, "but I don't know to what degree."

"You know how you know your child, but you don't know your child?" she said. "My eyes don't go around corners."

Prince Greene is well known in area debate circles as a standout member of the City College High School team. At age 12, he wrote a winning proposal for a small grant to fund a program for youths in his area.

"He showed a tremendous amount of leadership. He even had a business card," said Julie Reeder, executive director of Youth as Resources, which provided the grant. She said she talked to him about joining her youth board of directors.

As a sixth-grader at Loyola Blakefield, Greene acted on a local television show called "School Court." He played a lawyer and told The Sun at the time: "I want to be district attorney one day, so this is good practice."

Thomascine Greene, who has long been active in her community, said Tuesday she has been demanding more resources for youths — as recently as last week's Waverly Improvement Association meeting.

"Every community meeting that we have, I'm talking about the youth," she said. "With God as my witness, I said, 'You're going to wait until somebody gets killed, and have a community center in his name. Let's not wait. We have to do something for these kids.'"

But Greene stressed she was not making excuses for a killing.

"I'm not saying because they don't have anything in the community, that's what you're supposed to do," she said.

Charging documents provide new insight into how police were led to Eldridge and Middleton.

As detectives investigated what happened to Ponsi, patrol officers responded to a call for a stabbing five blocks away. There, police said they "encountered" Middleton, who had been stabbed in his right calf during the attack on Ponsi, according to the documents.

They said Eldridge directed officers to the 800 block of Venable Ave., where police found Ponsi's stolen bicycle.

Middleton was taken to a hospital for treatment, and Eldridge spoke to detectives at the homicide unit. Eldridge said he and Middleton, along with several other people, had assaulted Ponsi and that one of them had stabbed him with a large knife.

Middleton was stabbed during the melee, Eldridge said, and then stole Ponsi's bike, according to the police account.

Police said Middleton later also admitted his role in the attack.

No attorneys for Middleton and Eldridge are listed in online court records.

In charging documents for Greene, police say the other teens identified him as one of the attackers. Greene admitted stabbing Ponsi with a large knife he carried, police said.

Ponsi moved to Baltimore five years ago from Leesburg, Fla., where he was raised by his grandparents, his grandfather, Robert Ponsi, 72, said. Known as "Robbie" to his family, he was the second-eldest of six children and had been involved in the Young Marines program as a youth.

Waverly, a North Baltimore neighborhood that includes the former Memorial Stadium site, has experienced a number of high-profile crimes, including the fatal shooting of 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott in August 2014. Another young girl, 9, was shot and injured in October. A 31-year-old man was killed in a shooting on 37th Street in September.

Greene said that though Waverly has a new elementary school and a YMCA was built on the Memorial Stadium site, she believes those facilities and other programs are not accessible enough for neighborhood kids.

She said it took the tragedy of Freddie Gray's death for officials to pay attention to Sandtown-Winchester. "What does it take for the community to get funds for these young black males in Waverly?" she said.

But she reiterated that there was no excuse for hurting other people. "I really pray for the family," she said.

She was dismayed by a torrent of racially charged comments on social media after Baltimore police posted information about her son's arrest.

"We're in this thing together," she said. "We are one family, and we need to pull together."

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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