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Letter from a killer leads to a trip to court -- and to a hard search for answers


HE LOOKED ME in the face. For the first time, the man who murdered my brother was able to look me in the face.

The digital clock in my car read 6:31 as I pulled off Thursday morning and headed down to Easton. From Pimlico, I took Hilton Street down to I-95 south and got onto Route 100. From there, I hit I-97 south and in what seemed like no time was crossing a fog-shrouded Bay Bridge onto the Eastern Shore.

I had retrieved the message from my voice mail the night before. Karen Green of the Talbot County state's attorney's office had left it for me.

"Tomorrow morning, Anthony Mills has put in for a notice to be allowed to get out of jail and to go to alcohol and drug rehabilitation in lieu of jail time," Green said.

So there it was. Anthony Tyrone Mills, who on Nov. 25, 1996, stabbed one Tyrone Matthew Kane to death at the corner of Easton's notorious Port and West streets, was asking to be cut a break. I wasn't surprised. I had expected it since the summer.

Mills had written me a letter. He was full of sorrow and contrition over my brother's death, he wrote. He was high on drugs and booze at the time of the killing. His schooling was so atrocious, he admitted, that he had needed another inmate's help to even write the thing.

To his credit, he expressed sympathy about the death of my sister Carolyn six months after he killed my brother. At least Mills had connected the dots enough to know he'd helped to kill her, too.

Was he leveling with me, or was this a ruse to get out of prison? I didn't know what to make of the letter. I let my brother Michael read it. We looked at each other when he was done. The cynic in me took over.

"You'll notice he put everything in there but the date of his hearing for post-conviction relief," I said.

All inmates are entitled to post-conviction relief and modification-of-sentence hearings in which they ask the judge to reduce the time they will serve. I had been to such a hearing almost three years ago, when a man named Otis Robinson said he had given false testimony in the murder trial of Gary Washington, who was convicted of killing Faheem Ali in 1986. The judge in that case didn't modify Washington's sentence.

What if Robinson's lying? the judge must have figured of the recanted testimony. What if he isn't, I've asked since.

Mills, convicted of second-degree murder, got 30 years for killing my brother. He had to have been hoping for a drastic reduction in his sentence.

I ran the letter by my mother, who, as a result of dealing with my father for years, has a well-honed fertilizer detector. Mills' letter, she said, did indeed have that odor about it.

"I wrote to him and told him to get right with God," Mom said. "I didn't put a return address on it because that's all I have to say to him."

Still his letter troubled me. Should I go to the Eastern Correctional Institution and see Mills, talk to him, gauge his sincerity for myself? Then Sept. 11 hit, and I pushed Mills and Tyrone to the back of my mind for a while. Then the call came from the Talbot County state's attorney's office.

So there I was around 9 a.m. Thursday when Judge William Horne - the same guy who hit Mills with the 30-year bit - walked into the courtroom to hear arguments from the public defender who would plead Mills' case.

As I had predicted, this was indeed a hearing for post-conviction relief and modification of sentence. Several witnesses took the stand for Mills. The first was Eric Mills, Anthony Mills' maternal uncle.

"Tyrone was born, through no choice of his own, into an alcoholic family," the uncle began. "During grade school, he was considered slow and put in special-education classes." The special-ed classes soon turned Mills off to learning. He dropped out of school and drifted into alcoholism, drug addiction and the street life.

"When he wasn't drugging and drinking," the uncle continued, "he was one of the sweetest persons in the world."

Another relative, Tony Mills, told Horne about his cousin.

"Tyrone [Mills] was slow," Tony Mills testified. "He was easily led by people and got caught up in some things he shouldn't have been in. Rehab is what he needs."

Soon, Anthony Tyrone Mills was on the stand. He wore a burgundy shirt and blue jeans. He was paunchier around the middle - he had gained some weight - and wore a goatee. A pair of glasses adorned the face where none had been before. It was through those lenses that he looked right at me.

"I really am sorry, and Tyrone [Kane] was my friend," Anthony Tyrone Mills said. "If he was here today, he would say I was his friend. I ask for your forgiveness."

And that is my dilemma. Other family members still think he's full of it, but I'm not sure. Instead, I'm full of questions. Should I go talk to him? What if that letter written in the summer of 2001 isn't on the level? What if he's lying to me?

What if he isn't?

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