Nathaniel Hurt left court yesterday a free man while his five-year prison sentence is appealed, maintaining he was "not a villain" for killing a 13-year-old boy he called "a terror."
But Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller said in sentencing him yesterday that while she sympathized with the plight of senior citizens living in crime-plagued communities, Hurt, 62, had no right to take the law into his own hands when he fired a .357-caliber Magnum at a crowd of teen-agers who had been vandalizing his car Oct. 10.
Vernon Lee Holmes Jr., who Hurt said was among a group of youths who had harassed him for more than a month, was shot in the back.
"Their targets of bottles and rocks had been at your property, not your person," Judge Heller said.
"We are a government of laws and not of men. This historic phrase was the ultimate message of the jury in this case."
The case became a referendum not only on Hurt's guilt, but on government's inability to protect residents from inner-city violence. A jury convicted Hurt on April 11 of involuntary manslaughter and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony -- moments after Hurt turned down a plea agreement that would have spared him prison.
Yesterday, the judge imposed the mandatory minimum sentence under the law -- five years without parole for the handgun charge. A three-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter will run concurrently.
She allowed Hurt to remain free on $200,000 bail until his appeal is decided -- a process that could take a year, according to his lawyer, Stephen L. Miles. His bail bondsman told the judge that he strongly believed Hurt would not flee.
Hurt, wearing a navy blue suit and looking weary, repeated to the judge what he said at his trial -- that he didn't mean to shoot Vernon, but that the boy was doing something he had no business doing.
Vernon "was a terror, an absolute terror," he said.
The boy's father, Vernon Lee Holmes Sr., said Hurt should have gotten a bit more time. "People are going to say what they want to say, but Vernon was a good kid," he said.
Vernon's mother, Avis A. Cross, wrote in a victim-impact statement filed with the court that her son's killing had caused her nightmares and depression.
"Unlike his offender Mr. Hurt, Vernon will never know what it's like to be a teen-ager, nor will I have the chance of seeing him grow into a young man," Ms. Cross wrote.
Afterward, Hurt said he was "drained" by his experience. "Everybody got me down as a villain," he said. "I'm not a villain. I didn't do nothing."
Prosecutor Mark P. Cohen said in court that Hurt had tried to mislead the jury with similar remarks about his criminal history -- saying he had never been in trouble although he had been convicted of assault in 1980, for which he received probation.
"He's not a hero because he cleans up his street," Mr. Cohen said, pointing out that many other city residents do their part to keep their communities swept and safe without using guns to fight back.
Mr. Miles complained that he was not allowed to explore elements of Vernon's past, such as his expulsions from two schools. "Most kids today don't throw rocks and bricks directly at transit buses," he said.