On an August night, under the glow of lamps in a Walgreen's parking lot in Southwest Baltimore, the Rev. James Miles of The Shrine of the Little Flower Church begged three masked carjackers for mercy.
He told the young men that he was a priest on his way home from officiating at a funeral and that his 2004 white Jaguar, a gift from his cousin on his 25th anniversary of service to the Catholic Church, contained holy vestments and his prayer book.
"I asked them, I told them, please don't bother these religious things," Miles said at a pre-trial hearing last week, recalling the attack in the Lakeland neighborhood. "The next thing I know, and I didn't see it, either his finger is aluminum or it was something like a gun. I thought I would die then."
Angelo Parker, 20, of the 2600 block of Marbourne Ave. is charged with armed carjacking in the case and using the stolen Jaguar to hold up another man, Erik Sanchez, four days later, also in the Lakeland neighborhood.
Parker's trial in the Sanchez robbery is scheduled to begin today before Circuit Judge John N. Prevas, with the trial in Miles' carjacking to follow.
Parker was the only carjacker whose cloth mask fell from his face, making an identification possible, the priest said in court. Miles declined to comment for this story, citing fear of a gang in the southwestern edge of the city where the carjacking occurred.
The carjacking was not Miles' first brush with crime. In October 2003, a man pretending to inquire about clothing donations pulled a handgun on a secretary and elderly cleaning woman at The Shrine of the Little Flower in Northeast Baltimore.
Another priest, the Rev. Michael J. Orchik, heard the commotion and confronted the robber, who ordered him to hand over a total of $7,500 from two church safes. The man police charged with the crime was acquitted in 2004, according to court records.
Miles was upstairs during that robbery. He told The Sun afterward: "This is the horror that people here live through. The sadness of their lives is just extraordinary."
Miles said in court last week that as the carjacker peeled off in his Jaguar, he went back into the Walgreen's at Hollins Ferry Road and West Patapsco Ave. to ask someone to call 911.
"The security guard, who looked to be 35 years old, wouldn't go outside" out of fear, Miles said.
At the hearing, Miles said that the suspect approached him from the side, while two other men, whose faces he never saw, hid and appeared later.
"I told [Parker] I was a priest at the Shrine of the Little Flower Church," Miles said. "He ordered me, at what I believe was gunpoint, to surrender my car keys. I frankly believe it would've been the death of me had I not obeyed."
Miles said that Parker then got into the car and signaled to his friends, who fled over an adjacent hill and met him at a corner, according to testimony and court records.
The recovery of Miles' Jaguar in the 3200 block of Elizabeth St. ultimately led police to Parker. Inside was a pay stub belonging to the other victim, Sanchez.
When police went to Sanchez's workplace, he told police he had been robbed at gunpoint of his keys and pay stub by three men in the 2600 block of Rittenhouse Ave., according to court records. Sanchez said he never reported the crime to city police because it was late at night and one of the robbers had dropped his cell phone, which was the most valuable item to him.
Detective Albert J. Rotell put a photograph of Parker in a book with about 70 others and had Sanchez look through it. The detective had noticed that the suspect matched the description of the man who carjacked the priest. Sanchez said in court yesterday that he immediately recognized Parker. The priest also picked out Parker as his attacker in a photo array.
"I was very, very careful," Miles told Judge John P. Miller at a pre-trial hearing. "The last thing I wanted to do was do anything to unjustly put someone in jeopardy."
Last week, Parker turned down a plea deal for a 25-year sentence, 13 years of which would be suspended. Parker's mother, Tammy Barksdale, said yesterday that her son told her he was innocent. "I believe in him," she said.
"I'm leaving it in God's hands," Barksdale said of the family's decision to take the case to trial. "That's who I have to answer to, and that's who he has to answer to."