One of the more troubling local criminal cases in recent memory is now being heard in Anne Arundel Circuit Court. It involves two male Anne Arundel Community College students who allegedly killed a 61-year-old homeless man by tormenting him until he had a heart attack and died.
An Anne Arundel judge will decide whether the students literally frightened him to death or whether the victim was so sick and inebriated that it is impossible to tell what killed him. But whether or not the students actually caused Archie Baldwin's death, what was done to this man in the name of collegiate horseplay ought to leave decent people outraged.
The defendants (two alleged accessories face trial next month) are not disputing the details of the July 1993 attack on Mr. Baldwin, as revealed in police documents and court testimony:
They were drunk when they found Mr. Baldwin loitering behind one student's Annapolis home and began taunting him. They poured beer and paint on him. They urinated on him. They pelted him with rocks, bottles and dirt and, at one point, pelted him with part of a cinder block.
Even if one accepts the defense's argument that the students never intended serious harm, there is no excuse for what they did after discovering that irreparable damage had been done. When they found Mr. Baldwin dead the next morning, they showed not an ounce of honesty, contrition or compassion. They waited until dark and buried the body in a shallow grave. When it wouldn't fit, they broke Mr. Baldwin's legs with a shovel.
The victim's family has directed some of its anger at local prosecutors, who have pursued manslaughter charges instead of the more serious second-degree murder charge. But prosecutors had good reasons. We won't go into the legal nitty-gritty; suffice it to say that uncertainty about what actually caused Mr. Baldwin's death would make a second-degree murder conviction almost impossible to secure.
No, the anger should be leveled at the people who did this thing, and at those who would dismiss what happened as "Animal House" behavior, a case of "poor judgment," the kind of thing that happens when college boys drink too much.
The judge may find that Archie Baldwin was not a victim of homicide. But we do not need to await his verdict to know that Archie Baldwin was a victim of the meanest, cruelest forces that dwell in the human heart.