Youths charged in killing of girl, 13, admit guilt

Two city youths charged with fatally shooting a 13-year-old girl in the chest and then hiding her body under a pile of trash in an East Baltimore alley admitted to their respective roles in the killing Tuesday afternoon in juvenile court.

A 13-year-old boy tendered an admission — the juvenile court equivalent of a guilty plea — to a charge of involuntary manslaughter for accidentally shooting Monae Turnage in March. A 12-year-old friend admitted to being an accessory to the crime for helping move her body.

The older boy, who has been held in detention since his arrest, broke down crying as his attorney advised him of his rights.

Prosecutors revealed an important detail at the hearing, saying Monae was still breathing when the boys moved her body out of the older one's home and into an alley in the rear of the 1600 block of Cliftview Ave. on March 3. They covered her body in trash bags filled with construction debris in an attempt to conceal her, according to Assistant State's Attorney Patrick Moran.

Monae's mother, Edith Turnage, who attended the hearing at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, shuddered when she heard that Monae was still alive when the body was discarded.

"If she was still alive … why did they put her out in the trash?" she said after the hearing. "If they had called me or called 911, maybe they could've saved her life. Who knows? But instead they let her die."

A sentencing hearing for the teens is scheduled to be held later this month. The Baltimore Sun does not generally identify suspects charged in juvenile court.

After the court hearing, Monae's brother, 16-year-old Malik Turnage, sat on small stone wall along the sidewalk on Gay Street, his head down, and virtually silent. He found the body in the alley, and said he still has nightmares about the experience.

"It was hard hearing all that again," he said of the court proceedings. "I didn't want to have to go through all that again. … I just hope they get the maximum they can get."

Circuit Court Judge Robert Kershaw, after accepting the pleas, told the boys about a juvenile who had been involved in a similar case seven years ago and came back to court in recent weeks. He said that suspect, now 21, was embarking on a career in medical services, "dedicating his life" to helping people.

"At the end of the largest, darkest tunnel, there is always the possibility of a better day," Kershaw told the families of the victim and the suspects, "and to find a way forward that makes things maybe not right, but better than the grief we find at the present."

Police have said the children were apparently playing when the gun went off. The youths were supposed to be roller skating but were in a home when the older boy got the gun from under a relative's bed. He initially lied to investigators, saying the girl had left his home, authorities said.

Martinez Armstrong, a 21-year-old half-brother of one of the suspects, has been charged with reckless endangerment and being a felon in possession of a firearm, after police linked him to the weapon.

The case took on an added twist when it was revealed that a city police officer, John A. Ward, was being investigated for allegedly helping the young suspects in the aftermath of the shooting. He was suspended in early March but has not been charged with a crime.

Law enforcement sources have said that the officer, a four-year veteran assigned to the Eastern District, was engaged to a relative of one of the teenage suspects and that the rifle suspected of having been used in the shooting was found in his personal vehicle.

Ward's attorney, Christie Needleman, said in March that there are "two sides to every story" and she warned against rushing to judgment. She criticized Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for saying that allegations about a police officer's involvement were "disgusting."

Edith Turnage has described her daughter as an "intelligent young lady, a very pretty young lady," who "wanted to do something with her life." She had perfect attendance at William C. March Middle School, where classmates held a vigil that was attended by hundreds, including several city leaders.

Monae worked on a school program helping victims of child abuse, played lacrosse, sang in her church choir and wanted to be a pediatrician.

Monae had left her house on nearby Sinclair Lane on a Saturday night to go roller skating with friends.

But she didn't return, and the girl's mother said she got several cryptic calls from one of the young suspects, first telling her that Monae was on her way home, and then inquiring if she had made it. Moran said Tuesday that on some of the calls, the boy simply said he was calling to say "Hi."

She called police, and an officer went to the house on Cliftview, knocked on the door but reported no one home.

Relatives then mounted their own search, and Monae's brother found her body in the alley behind the house on Cliftview.

Prosecutors said that after Monae was shot, the first thing the older suspect did was stash the gun back where he found it. Then the two boys moved her body out of the house. The shooter's DNA was found on the gun, and both of the boys' DNA was found on the girl's body.

Attorneys for the boys, Jonas Needleman and Jonathan Hoover, declined to comment on behalf of the suspects and their families.

Monae's relatives said the shooting may have been an accident, but the boys' actions afterward were inexcusable, particularly because they had been good friends with the girl.

"He ate at my daughter's house," Monae's grandmother, Nellie Wright, said of the younger suspect. "We fed him, took him to the park, played games with him. I don't understand how someone who was part of our family could do something so rotten to our little girl."