In the courthouse hallway yesterday, moments after he had been spared prison time for fatally shooting a 14-year-old boy he had caught breaking into his shed, Ronald Edward Johnson Sr. wrapped his arms around the slain boy's father and wept.
The two men, Johnson and James M. Dancy Jr., embraced for five minutes as their wives stood beside them, crying and praying.
"He has suffered enough," Dancy said later, adding that he is satisfied with Johnson's sentence of five years of probation and 100 hours of community service. "I don't see the point in destroying another family."
The 31-year-old former officer with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene had faced 10 years in prison for pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter. At yesterday's sentencing at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, Johnson quietly told the judge that shooting D'Koy Dancy once in the back had been an accident.
"I'm sorry," he said, addressing the court. "I just don't know what else I can say right now."
Johnson had spotted two boys just after midnight Aug. 20 near his shed in the 5000 block of Lindsay Road. with what looked like bolt cutters, according to court documents. Johnson grabbed a .40-caliber Glock handgun and ran to the window of his then-12-year-old son's second-story bedroom.
He told police he tripped over clutter in the room and the gun fired out the window, hitting Dancy. Afterward, he yelled for his wife to call 911 and tried to resuscitate the boy, according to the court documents. D'Koy was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and pronounced dead about an hour later.
Johnson's actions after the shooting, James Dancy and his wife said, proved to them that he did not mean to kill their son.
James and Tonnette Dancy tearfully told the judge about how their lives had changed after D'Koy, their adopted son, was killed.
James Dancy cries almost every day. The couple's 7-year-old daughter asks where her brother is. Their 14-year-old son has become withdrawn, his mother said. "He just doesn't care anymore."
And Tonnette Dancy said she aches because she never got a chance to tell her adopted son, who struggled to stay out of trouble, that she was so hard on him because she loved him.
She said she pictured herself crying at D'Koy's high school graduation, crying at his wedding, crying when his first child was born. Instead, she cried at his funeral.
Circuit Judge Joseph P. McCurdy called it a "terrible tragedy" for both families.
"He's going to carry this burden for the rest of his life," the judge said before he sentenced Johnson. Assistant State's Attorney Matthew Fraling had asked for a 10-year prison term.
After the sentencing, the prosecutor watched the families cry together in the hallway and said he'd never seen anything so moving.
Johnson, dressed in a dark suit, left Baltimore Circuit Court holding hands with his mother and his wife. The family did not speak to reporters.
There have been several other examples in recent years of Baltimore homeowners using weapons to ward off young people and defend their property.
Edward Day was sentenced in December to six years in prison for fatally shooting a 15-year-old who had been trying to steal a red mountain bike from his West Baltimore yard in 2002.
Prosecutors said Day purposefully shot David Stewart in the back once with a double-barrel shotgun, but the man's defense attorney said the gun fired accidentally.
In that case, Stewart's family pushed for a stiff sentence.
William Banks of East Baltimore was given a nine-year prison term in March 2003 after he admitted shooting three youths when they refused to move off the steps of an abandoned rowhouse next door.
None sustained life-threatening injuries, but a then-18-year-old was shot three times, twice in the chest. A 15-year-old boy was hit once in the right arm, and an 11-year-old girl was struck in the left forearm.
In one of the most notable cases, snowball stand operator Nathaniel Hurt killed a 13-year-old in 1994 when Hurt fired a handgun to scare off youths who were vandalizing his car.
Like Johnson, Hurt was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. But Hurt was sentenced to five years in prison. In January 1998, Gov. Parris N. Glendening commuted his sentence after he served 14 months.
During yesterday's sentencing, Tonnette Dancy said she feared Baltimore residents have come to value their property over life. She said she knew her son did wrong by trying to steal from Johnson, "but he didn't deserve to die."
"Two people made bad decisions that night," she said after court. "That's what defines a tragedy."