"This case is all about children killing children," a prosecutor told a Baltimore County jury yesterday as he began his case against 15-year-old Otha Keyitta Samuel, who was charged with shooting a Woodlawn High School student near a pay phone on Valentine's Day.
But the defense painted a different picture of young Samuel, as a boy who had been used by two older jailbirds to run drugs from the time he was 12.
And it was one of these men, defense attorney Robert Philip Thompson told the jury, who actually pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Erik Patrick Chestnut.
The Chestnut youth was felled by a shot in the back as he and a group of friends, including his younger brother, approached young Samuel near a pay telephone at an Exxon station near Security Square Mall at about 11 p.m. The boys were calling their mothers for a ride home, Assistant State's Attorney Robert A. Brocato told the jury.
But the Samuel youth, a few days shy of his 15th birthday, apparently felt provoked by the approaching teen-agers and pulled a handgun, the prosecutor said. "Everybody turned and started to run, but that wasn't enough to satisfy his machismo. . . . He fires the gun, and Erik is shot in the back."
The state's first witness was a friend of the victim, Damon Wiggins, who identified Otha Samuel in court as the youth who pulled the gun and shot his friend.
Prosecutors said there were no hostilities between the defendant nd the others. Mr. Thompson told the jury in his opening statement that there were some "silly words" exchanged, such as "What's up?" and "What's up with you?" before the gun was pulled.
Earlier in the day, Baltimore County Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. denied a defense motion to have the Samuel youth treated as a juvenile, as recommended by the Department of Juvenile Services. According to reports at a hearing last week, the Samuel youth had no juvenile record, but he had been held back in school and had missed 70 days of classes.
The Chestnut youth died just after midnight at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, but police had only a vague description of the killer as a teen-ager unknown to the group.
In May, there was a break in the case when Edward Lee "Gwato" Lewis, 34, one of the Samuel youth's two companions that night, decided to tell police about the shooting. He testified yesterday that he was pumping gasoline at the station when he heard "No, no" and looked up to see the Samuel youth shooting.
Lewis and the other man, Charles "Tate" Owens, 22, who are both being held at the Baltimore City Detention Center on parole and probation violation charges, testified that they met the defendant two years ago in Edmondson Village and said he worked for them dealing cocaine.
Mr. Thompson, the defense attorney, treated the two men with contempt, outlining for the jury their records of charges and convictions.
Under his questioning, Lewis admitted that he only came forward with the story after he was charged with shooting at the Samuel youth in an unrelated incident. The .38-caliber handgun belonged to Owens, both men said. The two men, longtime friends, denied being involved in the killing but admitted under questioning that they got rid of the gun and tried to sell the car they were filling with gasoline the next day.