My cousin, Shana Gulliver, wept when she saw the portrait of her father.
Shana is the proud mother of a 2-year-old. When she entered an assistant state's attorney's office yesterday morning, Shana looked every bit the composed, dignified 26-year-old woman she is.
But when she saw that painting of her dad -- a bearded, rakishly handsome and smiling Nathaniel Gulliver -- poor Shana couldn't hold back the tears. And I couldn't blame her.
Two years ago, Shana's father -- no doubt "Daddy" to her but simply "Nate" to me, his other first cousins and his host of siblings -- was fatally shot in a recovery house in the 500 block of W. 27th St., as were Steven Matthews and Antwon Arthur.
Shana was in town yesterday -- along with her fiance and the grandson her father never had a chance to lay eyes on -- to see what kind of sentence the man found guilty of felony murder in those crimes would get.
Gathered in the courtroom along with two of her aunts, two uncles, a couple of cousins and some of Matthews' relatives and friends, Shana got her answer from Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown.
For Brown, it all came down to four words Nate uttered that were a factor in his handing Derrick Taylor three consecutive life-without-parole sentences.
"The one thing in this trial that really, really got next to me was when Mr. Gulliver asked, 'How much is owed?'" Brown said from the bench.
Amen to that, Judge Brown. That's been getting next to me for over two years. I can only imagine what it's been doing to Shana.
Nate put that question to Taylor, who had forced his way at gunpoint into a recovery house off 27th Street to collect a drug debt from Arthur. Nate, Matthews and Shawn Brown lived in the house with Arthur.
Nate, accompanied by a cohort of Taylor's, went to an automated teller machine in the 2500 block of N. Charles St. and all but cleaned out his meager account. He had only five bucks left after he withdrew $140. Brown made it clear as he addressed Taylor why my cousin did that.
"[It] was to spare another human being from being harmed," Brown said. Then he handed down his harsh sentence, the better to drive home the point of how senseless and callous the murders of Nathaniel Gulliver, Steven Matthews and Antwon Arthur truly were.
Brown testified at Taylor's trial and identified him as the man who shot Arthur in the head. After the shooting, Brown dived out a second-story window. He saw Taylor and a second man, identified as Corey McMillon, struggling for the gun. Brown didn't see who shot Nate or Matthews, but Assistant State's Attorney Don Giblin said in court yesterday that he believes it was McMillon.
Both Taylor and McMillon were charged in the recovery house murders. Taylor's attorney, Sharon May, said that prosecutors would drop charges against McMillon on Friday, but Giblin would neither confirm nor deny that. McMillon is serving life plus 20 years for another murder.
Taylor expressed sympathy for the families and repeated his claim that he is innocent.
"I wasn't the one who did it," Taylor said. "Your honor, I still maintain my innocence." If McMillon is guilty, then he knows for sure if Taylor is telling the truth, and only he can end Taylor's ordeal.
For the families of Nate Gulliver and Steven Matthews, the ordeal is over. But don't expect Harriet Bell Monroe, Matthews' mother, to ever set foot in Baltimore again. Not even for a visit. Not even on a bet or a dare.
"I'm not coming back," said Monroe, who lives in Ranson, W.Va. Matthews' sister, Elizabeth Matthews Jones, said her brother came to Baltimore in either 1995 or 1996. Monroe said he taught music in a Baltimore middle school. Her son was so smitten with the job, Monroe said, that he paid out of his own pocket for costumes and stage props for students to put on their own musical production.
"One of his students tried to stab him one time," Monroe said. "And one shot him." In spite of the challenges, Monroe said that Matthews loved teaching in Baltimore's schools.
"They had no instruments," Monroe said of the students in the school where Matthews taught. "They had no music. But they loved to learn. It was an incredible journey for him."
It's a pity that journey had to end in a hail of bullets fired inside a recovery house as Matthews was making a comeback from drug addiction. He'd been living in the recovery house for only a few days when Taylor went gunning for Arthur on a night when even paying off a drug debt didn't prevent three murders.
"That shook me to my very core," Brown said before he handed down his sentence. "No matter how long I do this, I'll never be able to get over that."
Neither will we, Judge Brown. Neither will we.