Harford County man is charged in slaying of Middle River pastor


A Harford County man surrendered to state police yesterday in the Christmas Eve slaying of the pastor of a tiny church in Middle River.

According to police records, James Thomas Wood, 24, of Forsythia Court in Abingdon called state troopers and was arrested at the Laurel rest stop off Interstate 95 on narcotics charges.

After speaking with troopers at the Waterloo barracks, Mr. Wood was charged about 9:30 a.m. with first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of the Rev. Samuel Nathaniel Booth Jr., 55, and was being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center. Mr. Wood was denied bail by a Towson bail commissioner.

When Mr. Booth was late for Christmas Eve services Saturday night, concerned parishioners found his body in the trailer where he lived behind Christian Faith Tabernacle Church in the 900 block of Middle River Road.

Cpl. Kevin B. Novak, a county police spokesman, said evidence linked Mr. Wood to the slaying scene, but the suspect surrendered to state police before county investigators had an opportunity to interview him.

Corporal Novak said police considered robbery to be the motive, and said Mr. Booth's wallet containing $77 or $78 had been fTC taken. Although police recovered a knife at the scene, Corporal Novak said he did not know whether it was the knife used to kill Mr. Booth, and he said he did not know whether fingerprints found in the pastor's trailer matched those of Mr. Wood.

Members of Mr. Booth's congregation put together a Christmas service yesterday to remember him.

About 50 members, nearly filling the church, gathered in an emotional celebration of his life and ministry, where several members said they tried to think of their pastor "singing happy birthday to Jesus."

Sylvia Welch, the church's song leader, grasped hands with weeping congregants before an 11 a.m. service, as others hugged each other.

"They took a man who loved God," she said. "We've got to love and forgive. We've got to pray on even harder. We're going to miss him, but it happened for a reason. There's got to be a reason. He died for his church. He's celebrating Christmas with Jesus."

Remembering Mr. Booth's love of music, members rose to sing his favorite hymns, such as "O I Want to See Him" and "God Is Moving."

"Our pastor is gone -- it's hard to grasp it," said the Rev. Tom Perrera, a friend of Mr. Booth's who helped conduct the service. "There's many here that he has touched. I am one."

Mr. Booth was pastor at Assembly of God Church on Bird River Road for six years before leaving to form Christian Faith Tabernacle, said the Rev. Clyde C. Oliver, pastor at the Assembly of God Church.

Mr. Oliver would not specify what led to Mr. Booth's departure.

When he left the Assembly of God Church, Mr. Booth took about two-thirds of the congregation with him, holding services in an old drugstore before the congregation moved into its present headquarters.

Ms. Welch said that Mr. Booth, who moved into the trailer behind the church several months ago, had told her he often was awakened in the early morning hours by people "partying" in the woods nearby.

Just last month, she said, Mr. Booth had to chase a burglar who had broken into the trailer.

"He always opened the door to anyone, friend or foe," Mr. Perrera said.

Before moving to the trailer, the pastor had lived with his mother in Bel Air and for a brief time in Baltimore, said Kitty Garcia, a member of the congregation.

Her husband, Benny Garcia, said he apparently was the last person to speak to Mr. Booth, who called their house about 4 p.m. the day of his death about an entry he wanted to put in the church bulletin.

"He was happy, joking with us," Mr. Garcia said.

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