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Man left in coma after June robbery ends fight for life

The Baltimore Sun

In the 10 months since teenagers set upon Zachary Sowers and pummeled him into a coma, he lingered in oblivion. While his swollen face gradually resumed its natural form, he fought off infections and seemed to react, almost imperceptibly, to sounds in his hospital room.

But Sowers never recovered consciousness. He died Tuesday night at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center "after a long and treacherous battle" against his injuries, a Web site set up in his name announced yesterday. He was 28.

His wife, Anna, to whom he had been married just nine months at the time of the attack, said in a brief interview that she was grateful that "we had so many supporters to help us get through all of this."

He will be buried on Saturday in Circleville, Ohio, where he was born and spent part of his childhood.

The apparently random attack on Sowers occurred on a June night as he walked home in Canton. His wallet, cell phone and watch were stolen. One of the teenagers was seen stomping on Sowers' head, and was later sentenced to 40 years in prison.

News of the Sowers case stirred an uproar over rampant criminality on Baltimore's streets, particularly in neighborhoods such as Canton that city officials had sought to paint as safe for up-and-coming professional couples like Sowers and his wife. None was more vocal than Anna Sowers herself, who called her husband's main attacker, 16-year-old Trayvon Ramos, "an evil person, completely soulless."

After hearing of Sowers' death, Mayor Sheila Dixon issued a statement saying she was saddened, and offered prayers for his family and friends.

"His loss is a tragedy for the entire city of Baltimore," Dixon said. "We must continue to work hard to ensure the safety of every citizen."

The attack resonated because he was an innocent victim in a city where most killings appear to revolve around drugs. Sowers and his wife were, in many ways, the faces of the new Baltimore, willing to live in neighborhoods that had struggled with blight but showed promise.

Young and with bright careers ahead of them - he worked in finance for the Johns Hopkins University, she in marketing for Johns Hopkins Hospital - they had rented a rowhouse in Canton and, in late 2003, bought a house just east of Patterson Park. The couple enjoyed hanging out at trendy bars and restaurants in the area, where some once-modest houses fetch $400,000 or more.

Sowers was attacked after spending a Friday evening with friends in a bar. Because his wallet was stolen, he remained unidentified at Johns Hopkins Hospital for more than a day. His wife, who was in Chicago at the time, began to worry that something had happened to him because he failed to return phone calls or text messages, and his friends in Baltimore couldn't track him down.

With the help of city police, Anna Sowers learned that there was an unidentified man at Hopkins who had been found unconscious in the street. When she arrived at the hospital - nearly a full day after the attack - her husband's face was so badly bruised and swollen that she had trouble identifying him.

For months after the beating, Anna Sowers would rub Burt's Bees balm on his lips to keep them from drying as he lay unresponsive in bed, she said in an interview last year with The Sun. It was a tip she had learned from a nurse.

Ten days after the attack in the 300 block of S. Robinson Street, four teenagers were arrested. Police discovered that the teenagers had used Sowers' credit card to rent two movies - D?j? Vu and Smokin' Aces - and reviewed surveillance camera footage from a gas station that showed the car they drove.

Arthur Jeter, 18; Wilburt Martin, 19; Eric L. Price, 17; and Ramos were charged with attempted first-degree murder, robbery and related offenses. In December, Price, Jeter and Martin pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery after agreeing to testify against Ramos, who was accused of beating Sowers while Price watched. The other two had observed from the car.

In exchange for their guilty pleas, Price, Jeter and Martin received 30-year prison terms with all but 15 years suspended. They stand to serve about eight.

Ramos, the ringleader, was charged as an adult and pleaded guilty to robbery and attempted first-degree murder.

Anna Sowers, who had nothing but praise for the city police detectives who worked on her husband's case, said after the court hearing that the sentences "disgusted" her. "I feel that today, justice was not served at all," she said. "I feel like I've got no rights."

Amid all the crimes last year in Baltimore, the brutal attack on Sowers struck a chord. Politicians promised to step up law enforcement.

Anna Sowers told a reporter that she wanted politicians to do something about crime. "It's people like me and Zach who will make Baltimore a better city," she said. "I should be able to walk two blocks to my car at night and feel safe."

On June 3, two days after the attack, close friends of the Sowers started a Web site to help keep the couple's large network of friends and family updated on Zach's condition.

Yesterday, the site was used to broadcast the news of Zach's death. A close friend of the couple posted a large photo of Zach and Anna, taken on their wedding day in October 2006.

"He was so strong and fought until the very end but it provides comfort for us all to know that he is now in heaven, watching over his friends and family," a friend, Justin Bright, wrote.

Alan Morstein, owner of Regi's American Bistro on Light Street, had participated in two fundraising events held to help defray theSowers' hospital bills. Reached by phone yesterday, Morstein was stunned by the news that Zach had died. While still on the phone, he turned to a co-worker and said: "Zach passed away."

Keiffer J. Mitchell, a former City Councilman who ran for mayor last year, said he was moved by Anna Sowers' "complete devotion" to her husband, and that the attack stuck out in his mind because of its brazenness.

"This was a young couple who had moved to Baltimore, who were just starting a life together, and living in the city," Mitchell said yesterday. "They had their whole future ahead of them."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Chris Emery contributed to this story.

An article in Thursday's Maryland section misreported the sentences for three teenagers in the beating and robbery of Zachary Sowers 10 months ago in Baltimore. Arthur Jeter, 18, Wilburt Martin, 19, and Eric L. Price, 17, were sentenced to 30 years in prison each, with all but eight years suspended. The article also reported incorrectly that Jeter and Martin had watched the attack from a car. Prosecutors said the teens could not have seen the attack from where they were seated.The Sun regrets the errors.
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