Despite pleas for leniency from three Baltimore political figures, a 16-year-old boy was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for shooting a former Columbia neighbor during a fight over a dog, leaving the victim paralyzed from the waist down.
Raheem Ameen Jones, tried as an adult in Howard Circuit Court, was given the sentence after character witnesses described how he volunteered for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's re-election campaign this year after he was convicted in May of assault with intent to maim and three other charges in connection with the shooting.
Jones' duties included going into homes throughout Baltimore and hanging campaign signs last summer, said Larry S. Gibson, a Baltimore attorney who was Mr. Schmoke's campaign manager.
"This is a person who, in my estimation, is not a violent person," Mr. Gibson testified.
Others who spoke on Jones' behalf Friday included Del. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, who is closely allied with the mayor, and Malik Rahman, manager of the city's Community Building in Partnership agency and the Schmoke campaign's field coordinator.
Mr. Gibson said in an interview after the hearing that Jones did not go into any houses alone during the campaign. He said campaign volunteers work in teams, mostly for their own safety.
He noted that it is "not practical" for campaign organizers to screen their 2,000 volunteers to determine whether any of them have criminal records but acknowledged that he was aware at the time of Jones' conviction.
Jones' mother, Paulette Jones, is an administrative assistant in Mr. Gibson's law firm, Mr. Gibson testified Friday.
The Aug. 16, 1994, shooting at the Hannibal Grove apartment complex in Columbia's Wilde Lake village stirred fears among many county residents that urban violence had come to the suburbs.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Murtha said the case highlighted how suburban youths are adopting a "gangsta mentality" by resorting to violence to resolve even the most insignificant disputes.
Christopher Graham, 20, was shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down after kicking Jones' dog and getting into a fight with Jones and another youth, who has not been apprehended by police.
Jones' character witnesses described him as intelligent and trustworthy, calling the shooting an aberration. Prosecutors gave another picture of the incident.
"This is an incredibly sad day for Raheem Jones," Mr. Murtha said. "But is is a continually sad life for Christopher Graham."
Mr. Graham, now living in Columbia's Owen Brown village, did not attend Friday's hearing. But he said in a statement that he has had to give up his active lifestyle now that he must use a wheelchair to get around.
"From a psychological point, [Mr. Graham] says that his disability is very tough to deal with," according to the statement, which was included in a report to help determine Jones' punishment.
Judge Raymond Kane Jr. sentenced Jones to five years in prison for assault with intent to maim in addition to a five-year mandatory sentence for a second charge of using a handgun in a felony. Two other counts, assault and battery, were merged into the sentence.
Jones, who testified that he shot Mr. Graham to protect his friend, was acquitted of the most serious charges against him, attempted murder and assault with intent to murder. He was 15 at the time of the shooting.
Jones, now of Reisterstown, will be eligible for his parole hearing after serving about 6 1/2 years, according to parole guidelines.
Jones' mother, Paulette Jones, testified that her son already has been punished. She noted how he is often depressed, and after the shooting received death threats in anonymous telephone calls.
Mr. Gibson told Judge Kane that a long prison term for Jones will only harden him, though he supports stiff sentences for crimes involving guns in most cases.
"I see this as a young man who, yes, made a mistake. But he has learned from this mistake."