Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Serious charges amid baffling laughter


Three young men, all shy of 20 years and all shackled together, stood before a judge in Baltimore County Circuit Court recently and laughed -- first in giggles, then heartily, almost uncontrollably. Everyone in the courtroom noticed. Everyone was aghast. Even the seen-it-all cops.

One of the defendants was charged with a narcotics offense, another with armed robbery, the third with murdering his 32-year-old stepmother in Middle River. They made their preliminary appearances before Judge Barbara Kerr Howe, who reviewed documents and advised all defendants of their rights.

As she did this, the young men bowed their heads and laughed, sometimes loudly, as if they were sharing a joke no one else got. Or as if they considered themselves untouchable. No one knows why they were laughing.

"No one could believe it," said Assistant State's Attorney Susan Hazlett. "There was nothing obviously funny to any of us. One of them was mugging at the judge, the others laughing. The judge couldn't always see [the laughing defendants] because she had her eyes down most of the time, reading documents. But they were all laughing, and they were all so young."

By the time the hearing ended and deputies escorted the trio toward the courtroom exit, the laughter was coming from some deep, strange place -- belly laughs, loud and long and clear. And chilling.

Boy upstages Newsline

The star of Newsline Night at the National Federation of the Blind was, of course, Newsline, a system that converts %o newspapers into synthetic voice and delivers it through telephone lines to blind people. It's an exciting new on-ramp to the information highway, allowing the nation's blind to "read" newspapers first thing in the morning, the way the rest of us do.

During the black-tie dinner at the NFB headquarters in South Baltimore on Monday night, guests heard a demonstration; a synthesized voice read excerpts of stories fresh from USA Today, one of the first newspapers to agree to participate in the system.

As impressive as Newsline was, a kid in dark glasses and tails almost stole the show.

Jermaine Gardner, a 12-year-old boy, was called to the Yamaha grand in the front of the dining room, then proceeded to dazzle us with performances of classical selections, from Mendelssohn to Beethoven, scherzo to sonata.

I'm telling you, he was fabulous. He was accompanied to the dinner by his "managers," James and Jacqui Gardner. They should be right proud. Jermaine, who was born blind, has been playing classical music since he was 2, performing since he was 4. By the way, his business card notes that Jermaine is available for weddings, socials and "children's Barney parties."

Lamppost love note

There are a million stories in the big city and this must be one of 'em. Guy named Robert posted a sign on a lamppost at Fayette and Calvert. It read:

"Caucasian frauleins, women -- will you have me, my offspring? When times were the darkest your light shone when there were no others. I love you for that. It will never change. I have endured my baptism of fire for you, so to accept any other would be a tragic compromise. Spare me. Embrace me completely. I do love you."

We have Robert's phone number. We're on the case.

Judge's car is victim

Perhaps it was intentional, perhaps it wasn't. But someone -- maybe even another judge -- kept whacking the side of Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan's car in the basement parking garage of Baltimore Circuit Court.

"And I had just had it repainted," Kaplan groaned when I called yesterday. "I had just had rubber strips put on the side, too." Repeated dings, pings and dents forced Kaplan to take another parking space, the one that had been used by Judge Hilary Caplan, who recently retired to pursue a larger salary in private practice.

Who would have been responsible for the damage to Judge Kaplan's car? "I don't know," he says. "People go in and out and others [besides judges] use the space."

I think the honorable jurist is being, shall we say, discreet. Courthouse mice tell me there's a prime suspect and she wears a robe. Stay tuned.

A Wild filmmaker

Somewhere in the American underground is a fellow named Gregory Wild. "And his name suits him," says George Figgs, proprietor of the Orpheum Cinema in Fells Point. Wild is driving from British Columbia to Baltimore -- these underground filmmakers can't afford airfare -- for the world premier of his new movie, "Highway of Heartache." It starts Monday at the Orpheum.

"This film is a country-Western, musical, drag melodrama," says Figgs, who calls Wild a "cross between Douglas Sirk and John Waters," and his film "an iconoclastic, satirical and scathing comment on the conservative Christian right wing, a film about bigots, victims, racism, misogyny, oppression, abortion, molestation, women in employment and sexual guilt." I think I'll leave the kids at home.

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