Adrienne Miranda has been fighting a lonely battle for "justice" since 2006, when her 19-year-old son, Joseph, was found crushed under an earthmover on a landscaping site in Baltimore County.
Miranda contends it was no accident, but murder and a cover-up by law enforcement. And although police and prosecutors said her son's death was accidental, Miranda took solace in 2011, when the state medical examiner's office ruled Joseph Miranda's death was a homicide and that he had "died at the hands of another," according to a detailed 2011 article in The Baltimore Sun about the ruling and the case.
But no one has ever been charged with a crime. Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger disputed the homicide ruling at the time and insisted that there would be no further inquiry into the young man's death. He told The Sun in an interview after the ruling, "The incident doesn't rise to the level of a crime."
Shellenberger told the Towson Times this week that nothing has changed and that he has had no conversations about the case since he last talked to The Sun in 2011.
Nonetheless, Adrienne Miranda has pressed on, crusading through the press and lobbying other law enforcement agencies to revisit the case. Now, she is promoting a self-published book she has written about the case, called "The Scent of My Son, In God We Trust," and has been doing signings at bookstores in the region, including an upcoming appearance at the Ukazoo store on Dulaney Valley Road in Towson, on Dec. 5 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In the preface of her book, she writes that her son was "just starting to realize all of his hopes, dreams, ambitions and a promising future."
Miranda said she found a penny in her son's pocket when he died and now wears it on a pendant around her neck. The cover of the book is a close-up photo of the pendant in clouds, with a blue sky and a rainbow above.
"People need to know that this book has great meaning," she said, in a recent interview at her home in Lutherville. She also said she would never stop fighting for the prosecution of the person who killed her son.
"If I have to, I'll march to Washington," she said.
According to the 2011 article in The Sun quoting police sources, Joseph Miranda, a Towson High School graduate, was killed by a Bobcat earthmover while working for Outside Unlimited, a commercial and residential landscaping and irrigation company in Hampstead. He was found face-down in the dirt. Police said he slipped off the Bobcat and fell between the wheels as the skid loader lurched forward, according to The Sun.
A co-worker told police initially that Joseph Miranda tried to pull the co-worker out of the cab of the Bobcat and that it appeared that Joseph Miranda's foot had slipped, according to The Sun.
In a subsequent interview, the co-worker characterized the dispute to police as "a pushing contest," according to The Sun.
The state's decision to rule the death a homicide was based on a finding by Dr. Zubiullah Ali, assistant state medical examiner, who told Shellenberger in an August 2011 letter, "There is no plausible explanation as to why Mr. Miranda was in a face-down position, while run over by the Bobcat."
Ali concluded that Joseph Miranda likely was pushed or knocked to the ground before the driver backed over his head.
"As the death was caused by the action of another person, the manner of death is best re-classified as a homicide," Ali wrote.
But Shellenberger wrote back, "I respectfully disagree with the conclusion now reached by you that Mr. Miranda's death was at the hands of another."
After her son's death, Adrienne Miranda gave up her job as a marketing director for a nonprofit, and had sent more than 5,000 emails to attorneys, police, prosecutors and other investigators, according to the 2011 article in The Sun.
Miranda told the Towson Times last month that although her legal efforts since the homicide ruling have had little success, she has had more luck on the legislative front, convincing state lawmakers to pass several bills related to the case, including a law requiring notification on death certificates of the public's right to challenge a medical examiner's findings.
In 2009, working with Miranda, Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, of Prince George's County, was the primary sponsor of a bill, HB127, that passed the House unanimously and the Senate by a vote of 45-2, giving citizens the right to appeal the denial of a request to change the cause of death entered on a death certificate. The bill remains in effect, said Tim Lawrence, a legislative aide to Peña-Melnyk.
Also working with Miranda, Peña-Melnyk sponsored HB100 in 2012, which authorized the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to amend the cause of death on a death certificate at any time after registration without a court order.That bill passed both the House and the Senate unanimously, Lawrence said.
"The delegate remembers Ms. Miranda well," Lawrence said in an email. "I do not know if she read Ms. Miranda's book, but she is very well acquainted with the details of the [Joseph Miranda] case."
But Lawrence said Peña-Melnyk "makes no judgment as to Ms. Miranda's claim that her son was murdered. Her legislative efforts were intended to make the process fair, transparent and accessible not just to Ms. Miranda but to anyone in a similar situation."
Peña-Melnyk "did work closely with Ms. Miranda, not just to pass the legislation mentioned but also to facilitate Ms. Miranda's access to law enforcement and state personnel involved in her son's case, and to facilitate access to relevant documents," Lawrence said.
But despite her successful efforts to get legislation passed, nothing can erase a mother's grief.
"On Thursday, July 20, 2006, the hottest day of the year, my life as I knew it would change forever," states the opening line of Chapter 1 of Miranda's book, which she said was published by the self-publishing division of Amazon. "That night, I received a phone call from my ex-husband, Bob, the father of my two sons, saying, 'Our beautiful baby boy is gone.' I screamed, 'What, what, what did you say?' He replied, 'Joseph was run over and killed by a piece of equipment at work.'"
"It's been over nine years since I've been fighting for justice," Miranda said, sitting at her kitchen table and holding up a poster of the book cover. "I need to have my story told."
She is proud that her son, a 2005 Towson High graduate, wanted to be a landscape architect and gain professional experience before going to college. And she said, "He had a smile for everyone."
She cherishes the penny on the pendant and said, "It's my penny from Heaven."
A woman of deep faith, she cried as she said that after her son's death, "I vowed to Joseph that I would be his voice, and I'll never give up. That's my child. That's my heart. That's my life."