Youth, 16, charged as adult in killing of former councilman

A 16-year-old boy has been charged in the killing of former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., the third suspect arrested in the September robbery-turned-slaying at a Northeast Baltimore nightclub.

Police said the teen, Jerome Williams, was in custody in a juvenile justice facility on an unrelated matter when he was arrested. He has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder. Two other suspects in the case, Gary Collins, 20, and Charles Y. McGaney, 19, pleaded not guilty Thursday in the killing after being arrested in November.Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said police had been searching for a suspect known as "Little Country" after hearing the name mentioned in jailhouse phone calls they monitored as part of the investigation. An informant in the case was recently able to link Williams to that alias, and Baltimore County police interviewing someone in a separate case received similar information.

Bealefeld said police took a DNA sample from Williams on Wednesday and were able to match it to genetic material found on crime scene evidence from the Harris killing.

Harris, 45, was fatally shot in the early hours of Sept. 20 outside a Northeast Baltimore jazz club in what police say was an attempted robbery. His killing shook the city's political elite and ordinary citizens alike but eventually led to criticism from the City Council and members of Harris' family that police took too long to solve the case.

Reached last night, Sylvia Harris, the former councilman's mother, said she was glad that police had arrested a third suspect.

"Right now I'm in a state of shock," Harris said. "I hope he is the shooter, and if he is, I hope that justice will prevail." Mayor Sheila Dixon said finding Harris' killer was a top priority for police.

"Ken Harris was a colleague and a friend, and he was deeply committed to making Baltimore a better place for every resident," she said at a news conference. "When this terrible incident happened, the Police Department was determined to find the individuals responsible for this crime, as we are determined in every case."

It was not clear how McGaney, Collins and Williams might have known one another, but Bealefeld said Williams had addresses in the 1500 and 1600 blocks of Lochwood Road, near the Northwood Shopping Center where the crime occurred and not far from where Collins and McGaney lived.

According to court records, three masked men ambushed Harris and the club's owner, Keith Covington, as they walked outside early Sept. 20. Police say the men held Covington at gunpoint but that Harris made a break for his car and was shot in the back. The group took money from a safe before fleeing out the back as the club owner fired shots at them, police said.

Police declined to discuss what role they think Williams played in the shooting or what physical evidence linked him to the crime. The Baltimore Sun reported this week that neither Collins nor McGaney was a genetic match to DNA found on a Halloween-style skull mask that police believe was worn by one of the assailants. But the analysis found three "unknown" genetic profiles on the mask.

In court charging documents, police had linked McGaney to the mask, though the DNA report reviewed by The Baltimore Sun shows that his DNA was instead found on latex gloves and bandannas recovered from the crime scene.

McGaney's attorney, Maureen Rowland, who criticized police this week for spreading "inaccurate information" about her client, said yesterday that she is combing through thousands of pages of evidence police gathered in the case and has not come upon any reference to a "Little Country" or "Jerome Williams."

"That's what people pay their defense attorneys for," Bealefeld said in response to comments from the lawyers. "The evidence in this case will speak for itself. We're confident in the work we've done."

Bealefeld said police are not seeking any other suspects.

Little was known about Williams' background last night. A search of electronic court records found no charges against Williams in the adult criminal system. Juvenile records are not public. Both Collins and McGaney had repeated brushes with the law.

Dixon noted that the third suspect in the case was just 16, and that the others are not much older.

"We have a lot more to do in reaching young people," she said.

Bealefeld said the case is an example of the city's senseless violence. When asked why the crime might have occurred, Bealefeld said, "I think it's a bigger question in terms of, 'Why any of it?' Not just Councilman Harris - why are young men shooting other young men in this city?"

Baltimore Sun reporter Melissa Harris contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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