An eyewitness to what has been described as one of Baltimore's most callous murders testified yesterday that one of his friends fatally shot Towson State University student Joel Lee in the face for a wallet containing $20.
The slaying of Mr. Lee epitomized the ruthlessness of city street thugs in a year that went on to become Baltimore's worst-ever for homicide.
As Mr. Lee's parents sat in the front of the courtroom with tears in their eyes, Edward Knox Jr. claimed that Davon Neverdon, 20, was the man who killed the student as he wandered lost outside a northeast Baltimore apartment complex.
On Sept. 2, 1993, Mr. Lee, a 21-year-old computer science major who lived at his family's home in Ellicott City, was looking for a friend's house to borrow a book.
Mr. Knox said he, Mr. Neverdon and two other teen-agers were walking to a McDonald's restaurant when Mr. Neverdon broke away from the group to rob the student.
"He [Mr. Lee] was looking around like he was lost, with a map in his hand," Mr. Knox said. "Davon went up to him and asked him for a dollar. The guy took out his wallet and was taking a dollar out. Then Davon grabbed the wallet, the guy pulled it back, and that's when Davon shot him."
Mr. Lee collapsed with a .25-caliber gunshot below his right eye.
The four teen-agers ran to Mr. Neverdon's nearby apartment, where he declared, "If anybody tells, I'm going to kill 'em," said Mr. Knox, now a freshman at Morgan State University.
Police opted not to charge the other three teen-agers, all of whom said Mr. Neverdon acted alone in robbing and shooting Mr. Lee.
Mr. Neverdon could receive a sentence of life without parole if convicted in Baltimore Circuit Court, where the fourth day of his trial ended yesterday.
His attorney, Antonio Goia, argued that Mr. Neverdon has no criminal record and was not among the teen-agers when Mr. Lee was shot outside the Dutch Village apartments in the 7000 block of McClean Blvd.
Mr. Goia grilled Mr. Knox on why he didn't come forward until six months later, when the police investigation began to heat up. Mr. Knox said, he was afraid for his life.
Police believe Mr. Neverdon had been on the run and hiding in Louisville, Ky., before his arrest on June 16, 1994, in Harford County.
He was apprehended after the driver of a car in which he was a passenger was stopped for drunken driving.
The death of their oldest son has been a hard blow to Mr. Lee's parents, Kenneth and Sinja Lee, who emigrated to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, shortly before he was born.
Kenneth Lee has become an activist in victim's rights as well as in the Korean community.
"It's very hard to understand this crime. My son was trying to give this man some money, and he was shot anyway," Kenneth Lee, an environmental engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore, said during a break in testimony yesterday.
Kenneth Lee said he never told his parents in South Korea of their grandson's death. His father died in April, unaware that Joel Lee had been murdered.
"My mother is 76 now. I cannot bring myself to tell her, she would never understand," Kenneth Lee said. "When she asks me about Joel, I say to her, 'He is doing well.' "
The trial is expected to conclude tomorrow.