Prosecutors charged a West Baltimore church deacon with first-degree murder yesterday after he allegedly shot an irate man in the head during a quarrel in the church's coffee shop as customers watched in horror, police said.
Ernest Arnold Jones, 49, a deacon for more than five years at Union Baptist Church and who had once given the victim a job in the church-run coin-operated laundry, is alleged to have shot Frank Harrell with a .380-caliber pistol he kept behind the coffee shop counter.
"Frank was a man who had experienced problems in his life and we had tried to help him out by employing him," said Michael Dobson, the son of the Rev. Vernon Dobson, pastor of Union Baptist Church. "You think that these kind of things won't happen at a church that is trying to do its best for the community."
The incident began shortly before 9: 40 a.m. when Harrell walked into the coffee shop, which is separate from the church but in a building that church officials use for community outreach and employment programs. The buildings are in the 1200 block of Druid Hill Ave.
Sgt. Robert W. Weinhold, a Baltimore police spokesman, said Harrell began arguing with a customer in the shop and with Jones. Police and church officials said the nature of the argument is unclear, although Dobson said Jones had recently "had to speak with Frank" about Harrell's work at the laundry.
The argument between Harrell and Jones "escalated into a physical confrontation, and Jones reached back to the counter and grabbed a .380 semiautomatic handgun," Weinhold said. One shot was fired, hitting Harrell in the head, police said. Harrell, 45, was pronounced dead at the scene.
After interviewing several customers and employees, city prosecutors decided to charge Jones with murder and use of a handgun in commission of a felony.
Dobson said Harrell had been working for the church as part of a program designed to help people with drug and other problems. Court records show that Harrell had a long history of drug problems, and convictions for misdemeanor theft, battery, and drug possession.
In 1992, after pleading guilty to felony theft and a probation violation, a city Circuit Court judge recommended "long-term drug treatment."
Pub Date: 4/01/97