A 20-year-old man released from jail in February after serving seven months for shooting a teen in the back was shot and killed late Thursday, three blocks from one of the 10 city drug areas the mayor said he had cleaned up.
The shooting of Nathaniel Burton on Old York Road in Waverly has angered police and residents of neighboring Pen Lucy, who had proclaimed success in recent months over the drugs and violence they've fought for years.
"Just when you've thought you made so much progress, you get another black eye," said Maj. Robert F. Biemiller, commander of the Northern District. "But you've got to keep going."
Thursday night's killing highlights the uphill struggle police face in routing entrenched criminals from neighborhoods and, police said yesterday, demonstrates that eradicating drug dealing and related violence is not as simple as pushing dope dealers off the corners.
It doesn't help, Biemiller said, when troublemakers his officers arrest keep being released and committing crimes. "It's the same people over and over again," the major said.
Of Burton, Biemiller said, "We had a concern about seeing him back in the community so soon after committing such a violent crime."
Burton's mother, Yvonne Burton, 35, defended her son as a "beautiful person" and blamed his killing on a long-running dispute that began when Nathaniel Burton was shot by the brother of the 14-year-old. She said she believes there was a contract on her son - adding that he was shot three times in the chest and head, and then another four times after he fell to the ground.
"It was an execution," she said. Funeral arrangements have not been made.
Yvonne Burton acknowledged her son "was involved in some things, but that did not warrant his killing. I hope the violence just stops. God will take care of whoever did this to my child."
Burton's death came just over a day after Mayor Martin O'Malley proclaimed a successful start to clearing designated drug areas. O'Malley conceded the targeted areas represent a small part of the city's overall problems, with 55,000 addicts and 300-plus killings each year for the last decade.
Robert Nowlin, a Pen Lucy activist who has stood up to drug dealers even after shots were fired into his home several years ago, praised the effort and said his community is "totally different" from its violent past. He lives three doors from where Burton once lived on Cator Avenue.
But Burton's release from jail, Nowlin said, "sends a message to the hoodlums that they don't have to worry."
In court documents, Burton admitted to selling drugs and being a member of the Old York and Cator Boys, a drug gang that ruled Pen Lucy for years and often had gun fights with other groups.
He served a short prison sentence in the shooting of the 14-year-old, the city state's attorney's office said, because of problems that persist in many similar cases: The teen victim refused to testify; fingerprints lifted from the gun - found just a few months before trial - could not be processed in time; and the only suspect identification came from the victim's friend, who picked Burton from a photo line-up.
As a result, Burton accepted a deal and pleaded guilty in February to first-degree assault. He was sentenced to 15 years, with 14 years, two months and 24 days suspended, and was released on time already served while awaiting his trial date - a little more than seven months.
"We had no physical evidence, and the victim refused any cooperation," said Assistant State's Attorney Haven H. Kodeck. "We had nothing. We took what we could get."
Police said Thursday's incident occurred as Burton was standing on Old York Road near Parkwyrth Avenue. He was approached by a man who started talking to him, then opened fire. He was pronounced dead at Johns Hopkins Hospital at 8:46 p.m., the city's 135th homicide victim of the year. No arrests have been made.
Biemiller attributed the killing to "historical arguments" among gang members that make policing the disputes difficult.
"It's not as simple as arguing over drugs or territory," Biemiller said. "They have a true dislike of each other. When opportunity presents itself, they take advantage of it. You can only do so much to dismantle ingrained hatred."
In 1998, Burton was shot by one of his former friends during a dispute.
On May 6, 1999, Burton shot the brother of the man who had shot him, a 14-year-old boy who was hit by one of 10 bullets fired from a stolen Glock .45-caliber handgun in a park in the 4000 block of Old York Road.