Killing earns teen 40 years

The Baltimore Sun

Oumar Bah's family is certain that he would have just given the money to the 15-year-old boy in his taxi.

Bah, a 28-year-old driver for Jimmy's Cab, had driven Damon Holmes to McClean Boulevard in Northeast Baltimore the afternoon of May 31 last year. But instead of paying his fare, the teen robbed the cab driver and shot him in the head, killing him.

Yesterday, as a judge in Baltimore Circuit Court sentenced Holmes to 40 years in prison, the maximum time allowed under his plea agreement, Bah's fiancee, Nana Kufuor, tearfully described him as a "model human being and a model citizen."

He worked hard for the Towson-based cab company and sent money to his mother in the West African country of Mali.

"He would do anything to help somebody," Kufuor said. "He would have helped this young man -- I guarantee you. He would have offered up the money. He would have helped him if he had asked for help."

Holmes grew up in "a completely broken family" and has an array of problems, said his attorney, Ilene Frame. Among them: lead paint poisoning, attention-deficit disorder, a low IQ, drug-addicted mother, absent father, relatives busy with their own families.

He was twice convicted in juvenile court for burglaries and was awaiting placement in a juvenile facility when he killed Bah.

"He never really had a chance at anything, Frame said of Holmes. She contrasted Holmes' broken family to Bah's loving one.

Bah hadn't seen his mother in six years, but he kept in touch her calling a cell phone he purchased for her.

"When we went to Mali, she was still clutching the cell phone," said Mamaa Kufuor, Bah's fiancee's mother. "The difference is that phone wasn't ringing anymore."

The Kufuors, originally from Ghana, had grown close to Bah in the two years he dated Nana Kufuor, the woman he was to marry within weeks of when he was killed.

They traveled to Mali a year ago to console Bah's family. Mamaa Kufuor told the judge how Bah's mother, Fatouh Diawara, received her son's body for burial.

Diawara stood among mothers who were warmly greeting their sons returning from far-away places. "They had flowers. There was jubilation," Kufuor said.

But Diawara claimed her son's body as cargo. "There was no rejoicing," she said. "There was sheer pain."

Bah's relatives could not understand "such a senseless murder," Kufuor said.

Holmes admitted to police that he shot Bah in the head, but he said it was an accident that happened while he was loading the gun, Frame said.

Assistant State's Attorney Sam Yee, while arguing that Holmes should receive 40 years, said the crime should be treated as a first-degree murder.

When it was Holmes' turn to speak, he mumbled that he would like to tell the family that what he did was wrong. Circuit Judge Lynn K. Stewart told him to turn and address them.

"I apologize for what I did," he said. "If you could forgive me, it would be good."

His grandmother and an aunt also stood in the courtroom and apologized to Bah's family. The grandmother, crying, said, "We did not raise him like that."

Neither woman identified herself to reporters.

Frame asked the judge to consider Holmes' age -- he's now 16 -- when sentencing him. To someone his age, she said, 40 years seems like a lifetime.

Stewart said she deals with reality, not a defendant's perception, and sentenced him to 30 years for second-degree murder and a consecutive 10 years for using a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. He'll also serve 20 years of concurrent time for robbery.

Holmes pleaded guilty to those three charges in May.

After the sentencing hearing, the women of the two families embraced and cried in the hallway. "We feel y'all's pain," one of Holmes' aunts said. "We're not trying to justify it."

"We appreciate it," Mamaa Kufuor told the aunt. She later said she believed the apologies were sincere.

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