Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Charges dropped in '83 shooting Prosecutors give up on trying drug dealer


Baltimore prosecutors have dismissed charges against a drug dealer who was accused eight years ago of shooting and paralyzing a West Baltimore girl who died earlier this year.

Assault charges against Aaron Wayne Harper were dropped at a recent Circuit Court hearing after Timothy V. Doory, chief of the violent crimes unit of the state's attorney's office, decided that the evidence remaining from the 1983 shooting of Michelle Bennett was insufficient to seek indictment.

"Too much time had passed," Mr. Doory said, explaining his decision to end a case in which bureaucratic mishaps brought no justice in the shooting of Ms. Bennett, who was 16 when she was wounded. "The evidence was not there."

Ms. Bennett, whose story was chronicled by The Sun in February, was an innocent bystander to a drug-related dispute between two men.

She was sitting on a bench outside the George B. Murphy Homes high-rises when she was shot and permanently paralyzed in July 1983.

Harper, now 28 and a resident of the 700 block of Dolphin St., was identified by police as the gunman.

He was charged in an arrest warrant with assault with intent to murder. But somehow the warrant was never served.

Homicide detectives discovered the mistake in January, when Ms. Bennett died at Mercy Hospital after eight years in which she was frequently bedridden with open sores that resulted from her paralysis.

The state medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide and notified the police.

Detectives realized then that Harper had never been arrested in the Michelle Bennett shooting, although in later years he had been repeatedly arrested and convicted for drug charges and a serious shooting.

Under Maryland law, Harper could not have been charged with homicide because Ms. Bennett died more than 366 days after the wounds were inflicted.

The "year and a day" statute is intended to prevent natural deaths from being wrongfully categorized as homicides based on earlier injuries.

Instead, Detective Sgt. Roger Nolan and Detective Harry Edgerton tried to make the assault charge against Harper into a viable case.

Detective Edgerton tracked down one witness, but the woman was slow to meet with prosecutors for interviews; the whereabouts of a second witness in the case are uncertain.

"They didn't want to go forward with what we had," Detective Edgerton said.

Mary Jaringan, the mother of the victim, said last week that she was not informed by prosecutors or detectives that the case was dismissed.

"I hadn't heard anything about him going to trial," said Ms. Jaringan, who had attended the preliminary hearings in the case, hoping for an indictment and conviction. "Then my daughter said she had thought she had seen him out on the street. But I didn't know what was happening."

Baltimore City Detention Center officials said that Harper was released April 23, after narcotics charges against him were dismissed.

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