More than two years have passed since the nude, decomposed body of 15-year-old Tara Allison Gladden was found in a culvert under one of Columbia's busiest streets.
In a county with few murders, Miss Gladden's death riveted many Howard residents and caused agony for her family, left to wonder what had happened to a girl once described by her grandmother as a "red rose ready to bloom."
Today, Curtis Aden Jamison will stand trial in Howard Circuit Court, charged in the Columbia girl's strangulation after a complex 17-month police investigation.
The 30-year-old Baltimore man, serving a 20-year prison term for having sexual relationships with two girls, could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
Jamison's lawyer said he's worried that a backlash from O. J. Simpson's acquittal could work against his client, a black man charged with a crime involving a white victim.
"We're post-O. J.," said Edward Smith, a Baltimore lawyer. "That's really the whole ball of wax."
Mr. Smith said race often is an issue in cases involving black defendants and white victims, but that has been exacerbated by the Simpson case -- a case that highlighted America's racial divisions.
The attorney said he hopes to question the nearly 120 county residents called for jury selection today to determine whether the Simpson case has clouded their ability to be fair in Jamison's trial.
But prosecutors said the Simpson case would not have an effect on a Howard County jury.
"We're so far removed I don't think we're feeling an impact here," Howard State's Attorney Marna McLendon said.
A man named 'C.J.'
The story begins in the summer of 1993, when Miss Gladden's parents -- John and Johanna Gladden, now of Columbia's Long Reach village -- learned she was having a sexual relationship with a man known as "C.J."
Detectives interviewed Miss Gladden on July 16, 1993, and learned Jamison's identity from her. Police say the girl told them that an abusive relationship with Jamison had led her to attempt suicide.
Six days later, Miss Gladden disappeared.
Her mother came home to discover a basement door open and her daughter gone.
Investigators thought at first that Miss Gladden had run away -- she had a history of doing so. But to her parents, something was amiss.
Mrs. Gladden said shortly after the disappearance that none of her daughter's personal items were missing -- not even "Huck," a stuffed doll the girl had cuddled at night her whole life.
The Gladdens initiated a frantic search for the girl. They placed posters with her picture around Howard County, Baltimore, Washington and other areas.
They offered a reward for information leading to her safe return.
A police spokesman said at the time that there was no evidence of foul play.
That would come later.
On Aug. 17, 26 days after Miss Gladden vanished, a Rockville-based volunteer dog search team was scouring a wooded area near her Vantage Point Road home.
They found a body later identified as that of Miss Gladden lying in a quarter-inch of water in the culvert under Little Patuxent Parkway.
Investigators later learned it was the same place where Jamison had taken another young girl for sex several times.
Police questioned Jamison about Miss Gladden's disappearance Aug. 3, 1993, the day he turned himself in to face charges filed against him in connection with his relationship with her.
Miss Gladden had been missing 12 days.
Jamison told investigators that he did not know what had happened to her.
Prosecutors pursued charges against Jamison for having sexual intercourse with two girls, who were 12 and 13 at the time of the relationships in 1992 and 1993.
In a plea deal worked out in April 1994, Jamison was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the charges involving the two girls.
The case revealed that Jamison took the girls to local motels and wooded areas for sex.
One of the girls directed police to the spot where Jamison kept a sleeping bag for their encounters. Police found condom wrappers and liquor bottles at the site.
The prosecutor who handled the cases said Jamison told one girl not to tell to anyone about their relationship. He told her to stick to her story that nothing happened so that the case against him would be dropped.
After Miss Gladden's death, prosecutors were forced to drop the charges against Jamison of having sexual relations with her -- they could not pursue the case without her testimony.
But Jamison was back in court in February -- another indictment was filed against him, this one in the death of Miss Gladden.
In between Miss Gladden's death and the indictment, police mounted an investigation that included DNA tests and FBI examinations of hair and fiber samples found at the scene of the slaying.
The Gladden family declined to speak at length about the case, preferring to wait until after the trial. Police and prosecutors also declined to discuss the specifics of the case.
But documents filed in Circuit Court provide a glimpse of how prosecutors plan to build their case against Jamison -- in addition to the laboratory evidence.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad, the case's chief prosecutor, has issued subpoenas for more than 100 people, although only a fraction will likely be called as witnesses.
The possible witnesses include dozens of investigators, Miss Gladden's parents and the boy who was with Miss Gladden when Jamison was reported to have broken into her family's townhouse in Columbia's Town Center shortly before her death.
Taped phone calls
Testimony may be provided by a 15-year-old Baltimore girl who reportedly had a sexual relationship with Jamison and helped detectives with their investigation by allowing 16 telephone conversations with him to be recorded.
The content of the calls -- about a week after Miss Gladden's body was found -- was not disclosed.
The girl, whose name will not be published, also wore a recording device during a meeting with Jamison at the Westview Mall in Catonsville, records say. Police videotaped the meeting.
Mr. Smith said he expects to object to the use of the tapes involving the Baltimore girl, as he would any irrelevant evidence.
The trial is expected to last at least a week.
For the Gladden family, a resolution in the case could help put an end to 27 months of pain.
"It's hard enough, what we've been going through for the last two years," said Mr. Gladden. "It's now coming to a climax."