Bullet from 1991 adds to death toll for 2007

The Baltimore Sun

A gunman grabbed Joseph Ensey as he was going to a friend's apartment in Northeast Baltimore and put a gun to his head. "Give me all the money you have or I'll blow your head off," Ensey quoted the robber as saying.

The two men struggled, and the attacker prevailed, firing from his .22-caliber handgun, hitting the former cross country and track star at North Harford High School twice in the back. One of the bullets nicked Ensey's spine and left him paralyzed. He was 30 years old.

That was three days after Christmas 1991. Ensey died in November last year, and the state medical examiner later ruled the death a homicide, the result of the old wounds. On April 20, Ensey became the city's 80th homicide victim of 2007.

An act of violence from a murderous decade -- the city topped 300 killings every year in the 1990s -- counts in this year's statistics as if the shooting had occurred yesterday. City police typically deal with one or two time-related deaths each year. Two deaths in 1994 were ruled homicides 32 and 45 years after the victims had been shot.

Ensey's case is not being investigated. His shooter, charged with assault with intent to kill, pleaded guilty to robbery with a deadly weapon and was locked up until July 2004. The shooter had been charged in other similar crimes, and it is unclear from court records if he served time for offenses connected with Ensey.

"The case is closed," said Matt Jablow, a Police Department spokesman.

Ensey's case falls within a quirk in an old Maryland law that stated that a death must occur within 366 days of the original injury to file murder charges. It was designed to ensure that suspects are charged only in crimes that directly result from an assault, rather than from prolonged medical problems.

The state legislature rescinded the law in 1996, but the change does not apply to cases before that date. That prohibits prosecutors from filing murder charges in Ensey's death.

"We can't prosecute the man for the murder," said Assistant State's Attorney Donald J. Giblin. "We look at it from a practical point of view. If [Joseph Ensey] had been shot on Oct. 2, 1996, that wouldn't be a problem.

Byron L. Warnken, a criminal law professor at the University of Baltimore, called the "year and a day law" an anachronism but concurred with Giblin's analysis that nobody could be charged with murder.

"As a matter of law, it was not a homicide," Warnken said.

Two similar cases came up in 1994. Samuel White died of a wound inflicted in 1962 that had left him paralyzed for 32 years. A Virginia medical examiner ruled that the blood clot that caused his death was a direct result of the old East Baltimore shooting. Frederick Harris died in August that year as a result of being shot in 1959.

Ensey was profiled in The Sun four months after he was shot. He told a reporter that he immediately knew he had been paralyzed. Doctors at Maryland Shock Trauma Center chose not to remove a bullet to the right of his spine.

After being released from the hospital, Ensey had to use a wheelchair and live on a weekly disability check of $160.

He hoped to walk again, and he learned about an experimental device developed in California that might help him do just that. He made a public appeal to raise money in March 1992.

A local television station aired his story, an airline offered him a free flight to California and a motel chain gave him a free room while visiting the clinic. Ensey's family could not be reached, and it could not be learned if he ever walked again.

He died in November at Northwest Hospital Center, police said.

Police spokesman Jablow said Ensey's homicide was added to this year's total because it took that long for the paperwork to come through. The man police believe is responsible for the shooting is Gamel Brown.

Brown, now 42, was charged with assault with intent to kill in early 1992, and pleaded guilty to a different crime later that year. He was imprisoned until July 2004.

In March 2006, court records show, he was arrested on a heroin-related offense. That charge triggered a violation of parole, and as fate would have it, Brown happened to be locked up the day Ensey died.



Dec. 28, 1991: Joseph Ensey is shot twice in the back during a botched robbery in Northeast Baltimore.

March 16, 1992: Gamel Brown is charged with assault with attempt to murder and other offenses connected with the shooting of Ensey. He is found guilty of lesser charges and spends 12 years in prison.

Nov. 24, 2006: Joseph Ensey dies at Northwest Hospital Center. Several days later, the medical examiner's office rules the death a homicide.

April 20, 2007: Ensey's death is posted as a homicide. The case is closed.

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