On the streets, good overshadowed by evil

The Baltimore Sun

Adrian McFadden was pointing a black six-shot revolver at Avon Ball Jr.'s face and threatening to pull the trigger.

Ball's foster brother, George T. Johnson, stared back at the gunman and pleaded, "Don't shoot him, shoot me."

The gunman obliged, fatally hitting Johnson four times on a West Baltimore street on July 6 of last year. But the shooter didn't stop there. Prosecutors said McFadden opened fire on Ball, who by then was running away. Bullets struck him and a teenage girl who happened to be nearby.

McFadden approached the mortally wounded Johnson and, according to trial testimony, asked, "Is he dead yet?" Then he walked back down Payson Street, polishing the gun barrel with his T-shirt.

It's the best and worst of Baltimore.

The best being a man begs for his life to be taken over his brother's.

The worst being the gunman callously carries out the demand.

A jury convicted McFadden, 31, of first-degree murder, handgun and assault charges after deliberating for five hours following a trial that stretched for days in front of Circuit Judge Charles Bernstein. Jurors acquitted co-defendant, Anthony Davante Miles, 25, of a murder charge but found him guilty of several counts of assault.

Earlier this month, a surveillance video was released showing the city and the nation two men robbing a man in a Northeast Baltimore convenience store and shooting him in the leg as two young girls laughed and customers stepped over the prone victim to retrieve their dinner orders.

For anyone who thinks they've seen and heard it all, there's always a new low to which we can sink.

The shootings of Ball and Johnson are worse.

Both of them tried to leave before the confrontation got ugly but were pursued by the defendants and at least three of their friends. Witnesses testified that when the first shots were fired, Ball and Johnson had their hands in the air and were backing up, trying to reach their white Mazda Millennium and Ball's 7-month-old son who was strapped to a car seat inside.

"And George Johnson says, 'You can't take that car' and it looks like somebody is going to get shot, and God bless him and may he rest in peace, he says, 'Don't shoot him, shoot me,' " Assistant State's Attorney Theresa Shaffer told jurors. "And what does Mr. McFadden do? OK, no problem."

Relatives of Ball and Johnson didn't want to talk publicly. But what emerged in court was that Ball, 22, bonded with Johnson, his foster brother who was older by three years. On the night they were shot, they were sharing a car and had just dropped Ball's daughter at a friend's house. They were on their way to Payson Street so Johnson could get his tennis shoes.

Johnson pulled up to the block but couldn't get through because it was filled with people attending a memorial service for a child who had been hit by a car and killed. Johnson backed into an alley, and then a man came out shouting that he had nearly hit his son. They argued, and Johnson pulled away and drove up the street.

While Johnson was inside a house getting his shoes, McFadden and Miles, along with at least three other people, approached and began the argument again. Johnson came down to help his foster brother, and Ball said McFadden pulled out a gun and threatened him while Miles jumped and beat Johnson.

Shaffer told jurors that Ball and Johnson pleaded to be let go, to get back to their car. Then the gunman demanded the car. "They are trying to leave what is now an attempted carjacking," the prosecutor said. "George Johnson said, 'You can't take that car.' "

Defense attorneys tried to convince jurors that someone else opened fire, that a gunman couldn't have chased down two men and threatened them for so long with a block party going on a block away, that other witnesses disputed Ball's testimony and identifications.

The jury didn't buy it.

Ball was critically wounded and underwent numerous surgeries. He now has a speech impediment, a result of the bullet he took, that has left his voice raspy and crackly. More than a year after he was shot, Ball took the witness stand and methodically walked jurors through the shooting, pointing to pins stuck in a map to show who was where and when.

There's no video of kids laughing or stepping over bodies to get their take-out. There's no courtroom drama to put on prime-time TV.

Ball's testimony was tedious and difficult to listen to, but he never wavered from his first day on the witness stand to the next. McFadden shot him and his foster brother at the beginning of his story and at the end of his story.

In a Baltimore courtroom, that's an amazing tale all by itself.

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