Lost inside an adult-size T-shirt, a 13-year-old boy stood before a juvenile court judge yesterday and became the city's youngest murder suspect this year.
The child is accused of being among a group of kids who had thrown an empty wine bottle at the victim Saturday morning, hitting the man in the foot. The victim protested, and at least a half-hour later, police say the youngster covered his face with a bandanna, took a gun from a friend and shot the victim several times.
Police say the Pimlico Middle School pupil, who stands less than 5 feet tall, then shot in the back a second man who tried to drag the first victim to safety.
"I don't hate him. He's just a little boy," said Margaret Hamlett of the boy charged with murder in the death of her grandson. "It's just heartbreaking and it's sad because they're nothing but children walking around with guns. And now this one is a murderer. And I'm sure his mother's heart is hurting, too."
The 13-year-old boy has had "a few touches with the juvenile justice system," including an assault conviction, according to his public defender.
"He gets into fights, but nothing serious like this," said the boy's mother, who wore a "Stop Snitchin'" hat to court yesterday.
The boy watched yesterday's proceedings inside the downtown juvenile justice center with few outward signs of interest as Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon ordered him detained. He will be held until he is tried for the killing of Jerrod Hamlett, 23, and the attempted murder of Eric Freeman, 21. Prosecutors could pursue adult charges against the boy.
In court yesterday, the boy wore cornrows, flip-flops, white socks and institution-issued blue sweat pants that repeatedly slipped around his 100-pound frame.
Prosecutors did not provide any details of the killing yesterday, and attorneys conducted much of the brief hearing in hushed tones at the judge's bench. But during interviews, police and witnesses said the dispute started shortly after midnight Saturday in Oswego Mall - a public housing complex of drab, identical, three-story cement and cinderblock townhouses in Northwest Baltimore.
Agent Donny Moses, a police spokesman, said the suspect and victims might have known one another from the neighborhood but police are not aware of any long-term dispute.
Hamlett and his girlfriend, who requested anonymity out of fear for her safety, were standing on the back patio of a relative's house when a thrown wine bottle hit Hamlett, she said. The group of boys who threw the bottle scattered, she said.
According to Hamlett's girlfriend and police, Freeman talked to some of the boys involved and thought the situation was under control. The dispute seemed to be over, the girlfriend said.
But at least a half-hour after the bottle-tossing, a boy with a black bandanna tied across his face approached Hamlett with a gun in hand and threatened to rob him, Hamlett's girlfriend said.
Another person passed the gun to the gunman shortly before he approached Hamlett, according to police and Freeman's girlfriend, who also requested anonymity.
From close range, the gunman shot Hamlett several times, police said.
Freeman saw the shooting through a window and ran to save his friend, police said.
The gunman shot Freeman in the back as he was dragging Hamlett to safety, police said. But according to the girlfriends, Freeman tried to drag both the gunman and Hamlett inside - until a second gunman shot him in the back.
Hamlett, of the 3000 block of Wylie Ave., died. Freeman was recovering yesterday at Sinai Hospital, his girlfriend said.
About 11 a.m. Sunday, police arrested the boy at his home in the 2500 block of Violet Ave.
If his case remains in juvenile court and he is found responsible for the murder, he could remain in treatment and rehabilitation until he is 21. The juvenile system is geared toward rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Police could automatically charge as an adult a person as young as 14 who is accused of murder. This boy turns 14 on July 28, the day after his next scheduled court appearance.
A 12-year-old girl was charged last fall with the beating death of a 4-year-old boy she was watching. The case remains in juvenile court but has not gone to trial.
The girlfriends attended yesterday's hearing and vowed to seek justice. Other family members mourned Hamlett's death.
Among her six children and 25 grandchildren, Margaret Hamlett, 71, has done her fair share of worrying in the Park Heights neighborhood where she raised most of them. But her grandson Jerrod Hamlett - Roddy for short - wasn't one she worried about very often.
The soft-spoken, baby-faced man was still a kid in her mind. Court records show that he was charged several times with drug-related crimes, but she described him as an overgrown kid - more than 6 feet tall - who had a 2-year-old son but still managed to play video games from "sunup to sundown."
He dropped out of Northwestern High School and was planning to become a mechanic by enrolling in a job-training school, his girlfriend said. He sometimes worked with his uncle doing home-improvement work.