A Baltimore County jury yesterday convicted a city teen-ager in the fatal shooting of a Woodlawn High School student on Valentine's Day but stopped short of a first-degree verdict.
Otha Keyitta Samuel, 15, of the 400 block of N. Edgewood St., faces up to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder, plus additional time for use of a handgun in a crime of violence. Had he been convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder, he could have faced a life centence.
Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. scheduled a Feb. 1 sentencing for the Samuel youth, who had no arrest record until May, when he was charged with murdering Erik Patrick Chestnut, described by friends and relatives as a good student and a talented baseball player at Woodlawn.
The jury of nine women and three men deliberated from noon until just before 4 p.m., asking twice to have the definition of second-degree murder repeated.
According to prosecution witnesses, the Samuel youth was on a pay telephone at an Exxon station in the 1600 block of Belmont Ave. near Security Boulevard about 11 p.m., talking to his girlfriend, when a group of about a dozen teen-agers, including young Chestnut, approached the phone.
Testimony was unclear as to whether words were exchanged, but apparently fearing an attack, the Samuel youth got a revolver from one of two older drug dealers he was with that night and then fired at the group.
Erik Chestnut was struck in the back, below his shoulder, and died just after midnight at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
It was Erik's second trip to that emergency center in four months.
On Nov. 15, 1991, in an apparently unrelated incident, he was shot in the neck and seriously wounded when he was ambushed on his way home by a youth he had bested in a fight at school earlier that day. That assailant, a fellow Woodlawn student, was sent to the Charles B. Hickey Jr. School for delinquents, police said.
Erik's mother and stepfather, Joyce and Quenton Elder, called the jury's verdict a just one. His grandfather, his girlfriend and her family, his baseball teammates and other friends and family had filled the small courtroom for two days.
Mrs. Elder recalled that her son, the most valuable player on Woodlawn's junior varsity team and a member of the local Dewey Lowman team, spent five days in the Shock Trauma Center the first time he was shot, when doctors told her he might have died if he weren't so strong.
But the gunshot had damaged a nerve, she said, and "at first, he couldn't raise his arm."
So her son worked out in their back yard with his younger brother, she recalled. "He said, 'Mommy, I've got to get my arm back in shape for spring.'
"But spring never came for him," she said with tears.
When Erik was shot the second time, the police originally looked to the first attacker but couldn't find a connection.
Then homicide detectives got a break in May 1992, when Edward Lee "Gwato" Lewis, 34, called them from the Baltimore City Detention Center to finger the Samuel youth as the killer.
Lewis had been charged at the time with shooting at Samuel and another teen-ager in an April incident at the Westgate motel, as well as with parole and probation violations.
Two counts of attempted murder and 10 other charges against Lewis were dropped May 19, according to the court files.
Lewis and another admitted cocaine dealer, Charles "Tate" Owens, 22, both testified against Samuel, saying they had known him since he was 12 and used him as a worker in their drug business.
Both men recited their criminal records for the jury and admitted getting rid of the gun and the car they used the night of the murder. They agreed with Assistant State's Attorney Robert A. Brocato that they hadn't been promised anything other than a statement that they had cooperated in a murder case.
Defense attorney Robert Philip Thompson blasted both men in cross-examination Monday and in closing arguments to the jury yesterday, when he said Lewis "slithered in through that door like a rat out of a sewer hole . . . to try to place the blame on someone else . . . and they haven't even been charged."
The defendant did not testify.