17-year-old charged in Bel Air murder has juvenile record

Police in Harford County have charged Donnell Graham, 17, with first degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of a 29-year-old Bel Air man in his home Friday evening.
Police in Harford County have charged Donnell Graham, 17, with first degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of a 29-year-old Bel Air man in his home Friday evening.(Photo courtesy Harford County Sheriff's, Patuxent Homestead)

A 17-year-old accused of stabbing a Bel Air man to death in his home Friday evening has a juvenile record and was previously held at a state juvenile facility, prosecutors said Monday.

Donnell Graham, of the 200 block of Fairwood Drive, was charged as an adult Saturday with first-and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault and possession of a deadly weapon with intent to injure in connection with the stabbing death of Patrick Xavier Ward.


Mr. Ward, 29, was stabbed several times in the upper torso while inside his apartment in the 900 block of Redfield Road, according to the Harford County Sheriff's Office, whose deputies responded to the scene following calls from neighbors. He was taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air by Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company ambulance and was pronounced dead when he arrived at the hospital.

During Graham's bail review hearing in Harford County District Court Monday afternoon, a prosecutor said Graham has a juvenile record, has previously violated probation and was released from a state juvenile detention facility within the past few months.

It was a tear-filled courtroom in the Risteau State Office Building when Graham appeared for the hearing via closed circuit television system.

When bailiffs switched on the television showing Graham seated in the Harford County Detention Center, one woman, who was seated with another woman and two small children, wiped away tears.

Graham's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Marcus Jenkins, said the 17-year-old has lived in Harford County for two years and has never failed to appear in court. He said Graham's mother verified the information.

Jenkins acknowledged his client does not have a job, did not complete ninth grade and, while he has no adult convictions on his criminal record, has had contact with the juvenile justice system.

In addition to the information he provided, Jenkins submitted motions to have Graham relocated from the detention center to a juvenile facility and to have the case waived back to juvenile status.

Juvenile record detailed


Deputy State's Attorney H. Scott Lewis opposed the requests and shared details about the crime, as well as elements of Graham's recent criminal history. He also said Graham has confessed to the killing.

Lewis said Graham was being held at a juvenile facility until May for violating his probation. After he was released, Graham was on community detention until a short time ago, according to Lewis.

As Lewis outlined for the court the circumstances surrounding Mr. Ward's death and Graham's arrest, another woman seated in the courtroom began sobbing.

District Court Judge Mimi R. Cooper denied Jenkins' motion to move Graham to a juvenile detention facility based on the defendant's history and the nature of his charges. She then ordered Graham to be held without bail pending trial.

Cooper also ordered the waiver petition be held pending a report from the Department of Juvenile Services.

Following Graham's hearing, at least 10 people left the courtroom.


Vigil planned for victim

Tara Fowler, 27, is a longtime friend of Mr. Ward's and is planning a candlelight vigil to honor her friend's memory.

Fowler said Monday afternoon that Mr. Ward was supposed to meet her and some friends out in Bel Air Friday night. He never made it. She said her friend, Kim Brandon, received a text message from Mr. Ward around 8:31 p.m.

Fowler said when Mr. Ward stopped responding, Brandon made several calls to his phone that went unanswered.

"We got a phone call and heard that Pat was gone," Fowler said.

She said she and her friends went straight to Mr. Ward's apartment building to find out what was happening and learned her friend had a pulse when he was taken away in the ambulance.

"We had hopes that he was OK, and I called the hospital and that's when they told me he had passed," Fowler said.

She described her friend as smart, funny and the best person she's ever met.

"He was the kind of person that if you were doing bad, he's who you'd want to be around," Fowler said, adding he could brighten anyone's mood.

Brandon also described Mr. Ward as funny, smart, independent and always helping others.

Helpful to others

Brandon said Mr. Ward, who grew up in northern Harford County and was legally blind, was always helping others as opposed to the other way around.

"I know he was blind, but actually he was the helper," Brandon said, later adding, "He was blind but he wasn't helpless."

Both Fowler and Brandon said Mr. Ward was very close to his family, especially his brother, Daniel, and was looking forward to his younger sister's wedding. Fowler said Mr. Ward also has an older sister.

"The main thing he was really looking forward to this summer was going to his sister's wedding," Brandon said.

Fowler said Mr. Ward had a date lined up for the wedding and had bought both himself and his date new clothes for the occasion.

"He was just a great friend and a great brother," Brandon said.

Brandon emphasized how intelligent her late friend was.

"The night before he died he finished his last [college] class," Brandon said. "He got all his credits and was getting ready to graduate and move out of his apartment."

She said Mr. Ward was a mass communications major and had applied for an internship while he awaited graduation.

"It's just a tragedy because he did not deserve it, and he had so much to look forward to," Brandon said.

With his parents' permission, Fowler and Brandon are organizing a candlelight vigil for Mr. Ward to be held Friday at 8 p.m. in the 900 block of Redfield Road.

"We can all be around each other and support each other and talk about the good times," Brandon said.

Victim, assailant lived near each other

Mr. Ward and his alleged assailant lived in nearby apartment buildings, according to police and prosecutors. Police say the stabbing stemmed from an attempted burglary.

Around 8:48 p.m. Friday, a neighbor called 911 to report hearing two men yelling inside Mr. Ward's apartment. The caller said one of the men kept repeating the phrase, "it's under the futon," according to the initial call for police service.

The caller, along with several other nearby neighbors, tried to get into the apartment through the front door, and when that didn't work, climbed onto the balcony and into the apartment, according a sheriff's office news release.

Once inside, the neighbors saw a young black man who quickly ran away.

Police dogs tracked the scent from the crime scene to an apartment building practically across the street, on Fairwood Drive.

Investigators found bloody pants and a knife outside the home, prosecutor Lewis said during Monday's bail review hearing.

Graham matched the suspect's description police were given, and witnesses identified him as the man they saw inside Mr. Ward's apartment.


Sheriff's detectives say they believe Graham was caught unaware by Mr. Ward's presence in the home and a struggle ensued.

"We were able to apprehend a suspect as quickly as we did because of community participation," Monica Worrell, public information specialist with the sheriff's office, said Tuesday.

Police have not said what the repeated phrase, "it's under the futon," may have been in reference to.

"This is an open, active investigation, any information we release could hinder the investigation," Worrell said.

Fairwood Drive, where the defendant lives, and Redfield Road, where Ward was murdered, intersect and Lewis said Graham's residence is behind Mr. Ward's. The apartment and townhouse community off of Route 22 near Brierhill Drive is just outside the Bel Air town limits, between the John Carroll School and the Greenbrier Shopping Center.

There have been no trends of burglaries in that area during the past year, according to Worrell.