Shot by a classmate he had bested in a fight back in 1991, Erik Patrick Chestnut wrote a short poem about the futility of violence as he recovered. It read, in part:
Kill one brother, kill one more;
Some don't even know what they're killing for.
Is it for a gang, maybe some bad slang;
You may have lost your life over a silly drug thang.
Two months after he wrote those lines, young Chestnut was dead -- shot this time by a 14-year-old runner for drug dealers in a chance confrontation at a Woodlawn pay phone.
Prosecutors read the 16-year-old Woodlawn High School baseball player's poem into the record yesterday as a Baltimore County Circuit judge sentenced his young killer to 45 years in prison.
Otha Keyitta Samuel, now 16, was convicted Dec. 1 of fatally shooting the Chestnut youth, who was in a group of boys who approached the Samuel youth at an Exxon station in the 1600 Block of Belmont Ave. at 11 p.m. on Valentine's Day 1992.
The Samuel youth, in the company of two older drug dealers, was talking on a pay phone, according to police and trial testimony. Young Chestnut and his friends, who had just eaten at a nearby McDonald's restaurant, were headed to the phone to call for rides home.
Because young Samuel was 14 at the time, with no criminal record, Judge James T. Smith Jr. stopped just short of giving him the maximum possible sentence of 50 years.
Instead, the judge handed down a 25-year term, out of a possible 30, for second-degree murder, plus 20 years for use of a handgun. He also agreed to recommend that the teen-ager be sent to the Patuxent Institute, where he could be released earlier if rehabilitated.
"I've got bad nerves. I thought I saw a gun," the Samuel youth told the judge yesterday in one of his few statements about the incident. He did not testify at his trial.
Defense attorney Robert Philip Thompson said young Samuel had been "let loose to grow up on his own" since he was 12 and had no address but street corners or the homes of older men -- often drug dealers -- who took him in.
The youth didn't use drugs and wasn't even interested in the drug money, Mr. Thompson said. He "just needed to survive each day."
The victim's mother, Joyce Elder, was in tears after the sentencing. She called the sentence just but said she is struggling with a desire for vengeance for her son, who had been shot before and had just recovered his strength when he was killed.