Daughter charged in slaying of mother Suspect was on probation in 1996 MVA arson case


A woman who two years ago tried to burn down a Motor Vehicle Administration office, claiming she was doing the Lord's work, was charged yesterday in the fatal stabbing of her mother inside their West Baltimore house.

Shawnte Pierce, 23, was arrested minutes after the incident Sunday night and was later charged with first-degree murder. She had been undergoing court-ordered psychiatric care since her 1996 arson conviction for setting fire to the MVA's Gwynns Falls Parkway office.

Her mother, Donna Hartwell, 39, a nurse at a Northwest Baltimore treatment center, was pronounced dead on arrival at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center after she had bee stabbed several times.

"I feel for both," said Kirk D. Crawley, a Baltimore lawyer who represented Hartwell in a divorce and Pierce on the arson charge. "It's a great loss because of Donna. But I think Shawnte is really hurt right now, and that concerns me."

Hartwell said he had not been approached about representing Pierce on the murder charge and had not spoken with her since her arrest. Pierce was being held yesterday without bail at the Central Booking and Intake Center and was scheduled to have a bail hearing today.

Police were called by a neighbor to the 700 block of S. Woodington Road in Edmondson Village about 10: 45 p.m. Sunday for a disturbance. Officers arrived to find Hartwell lying on a neighbor's porch.

Agent Angelique Cook-Hayes, a police spokeswoman, said officers followed a trail of blood to the front door of the house next door, where the mother and daughter lived, and said they found Pierce inside. Cook-Hayes said police recovered several knives from the house and were awaiting lab tests to determine if any were used in the stabbing.

The spokeswoman said it was "obvious that some type of struggle occurred," but she was unable to provide a motive. Crawley said the two women often argued because Pierce refused to take her medication.

"The mother was a very sweet person," Crawley said. "And so was Shawnte. She was a good girl. But when she wasn't on her medication, bizarre things would happen. They would have their LTC normal arguments over medication, but [Hartwell] never expressed any concern for her well-being or her safety."

In October 1996, angry because she was refused a duplicate driver's license, Pierce walked into an MVA office in the 2500 block of Gwynns Falls Parkway and poured turpentine over the floor and counter tops.

She ignited a portion of the fluid, but was stopped by Maryland State Trooper Tyrone Johnson. Court documents indicate that 150 people were in the office when the incident occurred, and two of them, including a 14-year-old girl, were overcome by fumes and were hospitalized.

Pierce told arresting officers that "she was working for God and was there to do a job," according to a police report filed by Officer Wendy Farley.

Pierce pleaded guilty in July to second-degree arson in return for a suspended five-year sentence and a promise that she receive counseling and take medication to control paranoid-schizophrenia.

Court records show no violations of Pierce's probation, which extends to 2002, and police report no other calls for domestic trouble at the house.

Hartwell also had a young son. Crawley, who did not know the child's age, said he was being cared for by Hartwell's mother.

Crawley said Hartwell "was very concerned" about her daughter's mental state. "Our goal was that she undergo counseling so what happened at the MVA would not reoccur," the lawyer said.

In 1996, the last year complete statistics were available, 28 of the 310 slayings in Baltimore, or about 9 percent, were domestic-related.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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