A 59-year-old cabdriver pleaded guilty yesterday to bayoneting a 14-year-old boy to death in a fight last fall -- then drew probation for the crime from a Baltimore judge who said he had been punished enough.
"There is no purpose in the mind of the court in protracting the punishment which has already occurred," Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe told Eugene Ray Marshall of Woodlawn after he admitted killing Ronell Stewart in North Baltimore.
She suspended an eight-year sentence for manslaughter and carrying a deadly weapon and gave Mr. Marshall three years' probation and 100 hours of community service. Mr. Marshall has been held at the Baltimore City Detention Center since the killing Oct. 30, 1994.
The circumstances recalled the much more publicized case of Nathaniel Hurt, 62, convicted in April of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting a 13-year-old neighbor boy he said had harassed him. The killings occurred in the same month.
The Marshall case started when 14-year-old Ronell, upset because his older brothers and two friends would not take him to a downtown music club, walked into the middle of the 1000 block of St. Dunstan's Road -- causing Mr. Marshall to slam on the brakes of his Yellow Cab to keep from hitting the boy.
From there, the stories diverge.
Ronell's brothers and friends, ages 18 to 22, told police they saw Mr. Marshall jump out of his cab and begin a heated argument with Ronell. When Mr. Marshall grabbed the boy's collar, Ronell punched him. Coming to Ronell's aid, the other men attacked Mr. Marshall. The cabbie fell to his knees, pulled an 8-inch bayonet from a leopard-skin sheath in the back of his pants and sank it into Ronell's gut.
Ronell, of the 1100 block of Gleneagle Road in Northeast Baltimore, died at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center the next night.
Mr. Marshall told police it was Ronell who grabbed his collar through the window of the cab. He said that to try to shake the boy loose, he got out of the car, then was attacked by Ronell's friends. He said he used the bayonet to defend himself.
After the stabbing, Mr. Marshall got in his cab, drove to a nearby gas station and called police.
Hurt was sentenced to a mandatory minimum prison term of five years because he used a handgun and had turned down a plea agreement that would have spared him prison. He said he fired four shots from his fire escape to warn a group of youths away from his home. But jurors who convicted him concluded he could have gone inside and called police without hurting anyone.
Ronell's family was asking yesterday: Why didn't Mr. Marshall simply drive away from trouble?
"He could have left the scene and called for assistance," said William Stewart, Ronell's father. "That's what our police are here to do."
And like Hurt, Mr. Marshall said he was defending himself and had no intention of taking a life.
Asked by the judge whether he killed the boy, Mr. Marshall said: "Ma'am, that's what I was told, and I'm not trying to be funny. There was a fight."
Later, he wept as he said, "I feel for the parents. I didn't want this to happen. It hurts me, too. I just don't know what to do about it."
Family members of the slain boy left the courtroom sobbing after the judge announced the sentence.
"I know a lot of young adults have done things. But Ronell is not known in the community as one to get in a lot of trouble," the boy's father said.
He described Ronell as a young man who weighed 110 pounds soaking wet, who mostly stayed at home with his grandmother. "The only thing I have to say is I have lost a 14-year-old boy due to what happened that night," he said.
Defense attorney Maureen Glancy said Mr. Marshall was retired from the Washington Department of Public Works and drove cabs as a way of having access to a vehicle to visit his sick mother.
"What he was trying to do was preserve his own life. It was not his intention to take another life. This is a kind and gentle man, your honor," she said.
Prosecutor Ahmet Hisim told the judge that Mr. Marshall had been driving a cab for years in other cities and knew well the dangers of the job -- that he hadn't just picked up a bayonet for the first time in ignorance of the damage it could do.
Ms. Glancy said Mr. Marshall had no intention of driving a cab again.
Judge Bothe said she had been told that Mr. Marshall had no criminal convictions other than two nonviolent offenses in the late 1960s. She concluded that Mr. Marshall was not a "killer by choice."
Still, she told Mr. Stewart: "There is no excuse for people to die this way."