TWICE GRIEVED Son's murder forces mother to relive pain

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

Both of Prodgelee Pearson's sons were shot to death in Baltimore.

Her first son, Danny Wright, was waiting for a bus on North Avenue in 1981 when a bank guard chasing robbers fired shots. One bullet struck and killed Danny, who was 16.

Her other son, Jody Jeffries, was shot during a dispute over a girl in Druid Hill Park two weeks ago. He died Sept. 3, the day before his 19th birthday.

Now the boys' mother, 45, sits at her living room table in Baltimore County, a box of Kleenex and a stack of sympathy cards in front of her. She is a sturdy woman who speaks in a clear, soothing voice.

By her side is her daughter, Charleesiama Jeffries, 22, who says nothing, but whose presence comforts her mother. Leesa, as she is called, is her mother's only surviving child.

"I think back to the pain and devastation I felt when Danny was killed," Pearson says. "I never would have believed that I could hurt this way again."

But it is different this time, too. Whereas Danny died after he and his mother had fought for two weeks, Jody was killed after he and his mother had spent two happy weeks together.

She and Jody had found the time to talk, joke, drive around, help decorate their church for a senior citizens' party, and shop. She had bought him a Mickey Mouse watch.

Also, Jody had graduated from Woodlawn High School in June and had joined the Navy. He would have left home for the service Oct. 2. His mother had been preparing herself to say goodbye.

"This time there's harmony," she says. "God put peace in my heart."

BITTER PARTING WORDS

But in March 1981, before Danny was killed, he and his mother had been arguing viciously.

"I mean, we were two people who had loved each other all our lives," she says. "But you can't believe the anger we were feeling for each other."

Then they lived in the Madison Park Apartments in the 800 block of W. North Ave. Danny, a junior at Douglass High School, had told his mother he was quitting school.

He told her that he was bored, that he was tired of people who didn't know half of what he knew telling him what to do.

She didn't doubt that, because Danny had been bored even in kindergarten. He was intelligent and impatient. He played the saxophone and other instruments. He wanted to join the Job Corps, or travel to California to see his father, even though, his mother says, his father abandoned them when Danny was 6 months old.

Danny had so much potential that his mother refused to let him quit school. Her strategy was simple: Make life so miserable that school will seem easy.

She wouldn't let him go anywhere by himself, but dragged him along nearly everywhere she went -- to a friend's house to play pinochle, even to the beauty parlor. Danny was furious with her.

The morning he died, she sent him out the door with his younger brother, Jody, who was 9. Danny was supposed to walk the boy to school -- Father Charles A. Hall School at St. Peter Claver Church -- and then come straight home.

"I haven't finished fussing with you," she called out after him.

Those were the mother's last words to her oldest son.

STRAY BULLET KILLS

He did not come straight home. A couple of hours later, as Danny waited for a bus in the 1600 block of W. North Ave. -- eight blocks from home -- a stray bullet from a bank guard's gun ripped through his chest.

The guard was chasing several men who had robbed his bank. Pearson learned of her son's death when she saw a sketch of his face on the evening news.

"At that point I just passed out," she says now. "When I came to, I saw the face of my daughter's godmother, and my first words were: 'Tell me I'm dreaming.' "

She lived in a fog for months.

"I was in a blue, blue funk," she says. "I never thought I'd be happy again."

She underwent therapy, and she sued for wrongful death. She says the guard's employer settled out of court, giving her one lump sum, and putting the rest into an annuity.

"I guess they'll be paying me for Danny's death the rest of my life," she says.

She returned to her job, hearing discrimination complaints for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but she did not want to remain in her apartment. It was too close to where Danny had been killed.

"I wanted to get as far away from North Avenue as I could," she says.

She moved three times in the next four years. In 1985, she and her new husband, John Pearson, an operator at the Little Patuxent Treatment Plant in Howard County, bought this house in Lochearn, just west of the city off Liberty Road.

Her children would surely be safe here, she believed.

Her daughter graduated from Woodlawn High; she is now an active member of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Pearson took no chances with Jody. At the beginning of his junior year at Woodlawn she bought him a class ring -- a bribe, pure and simple.

SON WAS CLASS CLOWN

Jody was happy-go-lucky, the class clown, until he got that ring and buckled down his last two years. He graduated in June, but not before attending half a dozen proms with half a dozen different girls.

He and his sister both helped out at the House of Ruth, a shelter for battered women, where their mother had taken a new job in 1985. Jody and Leesa worked with the children.

But Jody's passion was a mite unusual for an 18-year-old. He loved Mickey Mouse.

"I can't really explain it," his mother says, smiling. "He was just into Mickey Mouse."

He wore a Mickey Mouse earring and slept on Mickey Mouse sheets. He had shirts and pants made out of Mickey Mouse material. He even had Mickey Mouse sculpted into his hair on the back of his head.

The day he was shot, Sept. 2, he washed his jeep at a cousin's house near Druid Hill Park, and then he and friends walked to the park, presumably to play basketball. According to the police, this is what happened:

Another friend of Jody's confronted him, accusing him of making a play for his girlfriend. Jody denied it.

The friend drove off with another guy, and they returned with a gun. It was early evening, still light.

The guy, who seemingly had no role in the dispute, shoved Jody and pulled out the gun.

Jody ran. The guy chased him. And, near the park's Safety City, a miniature village of streets and signs where children learn traffic safety, the guy shot Jody in the head. He died the next day.

GUNS USED IN QUARRELS

Later, a homicide detective investigating the case said: "Society seems to accept the use of a handgun as opposed to the way things used to be, when people had some respect for human life.

"It used to be that people would come to blows over something like this. It could get pretty violent, but it wasn't life-threatening. Today, if a handgun's around, they'll shoot without regards for the consequences."

The police arrested two city men, both 19, and charged them with first-degree murder: John Jackson, who is accused of firing the gun, and Marvin Bailey Jr., who is accused of driving Jackson to get the gun.

Jody's mother, sitting at home two weeks after the murder, says: "I'm so concerned about blacks killing blacks. If we don't stop, it's nothing but pure genocide. It's so very senseless.

"One time I could say it was drugs. But it's not drugs. The world is filled with hate. Someone, somewhere, is working to perpetuate this hate. I don't know who. I don't know how. I just wish it would stop.

"Every time I hear of a black person dying at the hands of another black, something dies in me. How long can this go on until I'm totally dead inside?"

Her minister urged her to hold Jody's funeral at Bethel A.M.E., because it is larger than her and Jody's church, Unity United Methodist Church on Edmondson Avenue. But she declined. She told him:

"I sat on a pew in this church and watched my father's funeral. I sat on a pew in this church and watched my brother's funeral. I sat on a pew in this church and watched my son's funeral. And I'm going to sit on that same pew and watch my baby's funeral."

SHE WEARS MEMENTOS

She took the Mickey Mouse watch that had been on Jody's wrist when he was shot -- the watch she had just bought him -- and strapped it onto her own wrist. She took his Woodlawn class ring, which he also was wearing, and slipped it onto one of her fingers. She says she'll wear them the rest of her life.

So many people came to the funeral they filled the upstairs and downstairs and stood in Harlem Park across the street. The procession of cars was so long it couldn't fit into the cemetery, Arbutus Memorial Park.

When Jody's mother got there, the first thing she did was lift up the fake grass to make sure the new grave was right next to Danny's. It was.

Prodgelee Pearson remembers one day before the Inner Harbor was the Inner Harbor, when she took her three children down to the waterfront. It was chilly, and she remembers them huddling together on a stump, or maybe a rock.

Danny was 13 or 14, Leesa about 10, and Jody maybe 7. It was getting late. The day was turning gray.

"I was telling them about death," she says, "that no matter what happened to me, they would always have each other.

"I told them to always try to stay together, to take care of each other, to love each other. That was my wish for them."

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