On opposite ends of a Baltimore courtroom, there were two families bound together by tragedy and faith.
At one end sat the family of Nathaniel Carter, shot dead while escorting his friend home because she was concerned about her safety. Filling courtroom benches on the other side were the relatives of Joseph Clark, who was pleading guilty to murder for the shooting a year and a half ago, a moment of impulse and rage.
“We pray for their peace and comfort and we ask for their forgiveness,” Trina Green, Clark’s oldest cousin, said of Carter’s family in court Wednesday.
Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart Mays sentenced Clark to life in prison with all but 40 years suspended, adhering to the plea agreement between Clark and the state’s attorney’s office.
The prosecutor laid out the facts: Early in the morning of Nov. 10, 2020, a woman opened her apartment door to find Clark, whom she had been in a relationship with. He forced his way in and blocked her exit path.
The woman was able to lock herself in a room and call 911, but Clark pestered her the next day with text messages and phone calls, Assistant State’s Attorney Rita Wisthoff-Ito said. “The defendant refused to accept the relationship was over.”
Wisthoff-Ito said Carter, who was friends with Clark’s ex-girlfriend, offered to give her a ride home from work and to walk her to the door the next day because of concerns for her safety. They got home around 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2020.
Clark was there, waiting with a gun. When he saw his ex with another man, he pulled the trigger. Police recovered six shell casings.
Clark ran away; Carter died at the hospital.
Police arrested Clark that night and he eventually confessed to detectives.
Carter’s mother, Gloria Carter, told Mays in court that her family was still processing his death, still devastated.
“Whatever the situation was with Mr. Clark, I wish they could have handled it differently,” Carter said. “You just can’t understand how we feel: the void, the absence, the loneliness.”
Clark’s attorney, Donald Wright, said his client expressed remorse from the time of his arrest: In an interview room with detectives, Clark wrote apology letters to Carter’s family and the woman who he had dated.
Wright explained that a confluence of factors left Clark, at the time 24, unequipped to cope with being rejected by the woman. He’d lost two siblings within the past five years and started self-medicating.
Though the 25-year-old had pleaded guilty to the murder of Carter, and Wright had already worked out his punishment with prosecutors, Clark asked Mays for permission to address his victim’s family.
Clark stood up at the defense table and turned toward the gallery. He said he neglected to think about the implications of his actions — the pain, the permanence — when he gunned Carter down outside the apartment building in Northeast Baltimore.
At 5 feet, 3 inches tall, Clark is diminutive but his voice is not. It carried clearly in an otherwise quiet courtroom as he recited Bible verses from memory.
“I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’” Clark told Carter’s relatives, quoting from the Book of Psalms.
Wisthoff-Ito questioned the authenticity of Clark’s remorse. She said Clark called his brother from jail the day after his arrest, telling him where to find the murder weapon and to return it to the person who he borrowed it from in their Parkside neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore, Wisthoff-Ito said. Police never located the gun.
When they addressed the judge, Clark’s relatives expressed confusion about how the young man they described as smart, determined and spiritual ended up killing someone. They said he grew up in a deeply religious family. Clark graduated from Forest Park High School in West Baltimore. He had already taken some college courses when he killed Carter.
Breaking News Alerts
His family thanked Mays for agreeing to recommend Clark for the Patuxent Youthful Offenders Program, which allows certain defendants convicted of violent crimes and not sentenced to life in prison to participate in a program that prioritizes their rehabilitation and prepares them for their eventual return to society.
In addition to the murder sentence, Mays handed down concurrent periods of incarceration for the use of a firearm in a felony crime of violence, false imprisonment and two violations of probation.
People convicted of violent crimes in Maryland are typically eligible for parole after serving half of their prison sentence. Clark will have five years of probation upon his release. If he violates the terms of his probation, a judge could send him to prison for the remainder of his sentence — life.
Green, Clark’s cousin, said she’s confident he will take advantage of the program to become a better man physically and mentally. Green said it was not lost on their family that Carter’s family won’t get to visit him again, as they will be able to visit Clark while he’s incarcerated.
As Wisthoff-Ito put it, “Nathaniel Carter received a life sentence. He will never come back again.”
But when Gloria Carter, an ordained minister, stepped up to address Mays, she did not ask the judge for vengeance. She spoke of her family’s pain and said she was thankful Clark feels remorse.
“We don’t find any joy in [Clark’s] conviction here today in any way,” she said. “We’re just going to trust God to get us through all of this.”