YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Boys Harass Elderly Man, and 13-Year-Old Dies : Baltimore: Nathaniel Hurt kept his property neat and in the process became a target of neighborhood youths.


BALTIMORE — Nathaniel Hurt was known for sweeping the curb twice a day outside his meticulous home in one of the city's most blighted neighborhoods.

In recent weeks, after prosecutors charged him with murdering one of a group of youngsters throwing rocks and bottles at his car, he became known instead as a symbol of good intentions driven to violence by kids who mocked his tidy ways.

Hurt doesn't deny shooting 13-year-old Vernon Holmes Jr., a skinny foster child with crooked teeth who was new to the neighborhood and whom Hurt once hired to work at the snowcone stand behind his house.

But the 61-year-old janitor, who returned to work Tuesday after sympathetic friends and neighbors bailed him out, claims he was driven to it by teen-agers who started harassing him after he told them to stop throwing rocks at passing buses last month.

"He became a marked man for the kids in the neighborhood," said Hurt's lawyer, Stephen L. Miles.

"They're hoodlums. There's no jury in the world who would convict him of first-degree murder."

Over a period of several weeks, the boys cut his garden hose, threw garbage in the little paved backyard he keeps immaculate, and regularly knocked over his garbage cans, Miles said.

"They had him in such a complete flux of fear," said Miles, who is defending Hurt at no charge. "They created this situation, and one of them unfortunately paid the consequence for the social ills of the city."

Police disagreed with that assessment. "What upsets me more than anything is people trying to make (Hurt) the victim," Detective Marvin Sydnor said. "They're forgetting about this baby that was killed."

But community activist Phillip A. Brown Jr. said prosecutors should drop the charges.

"Instead of trying to prosecute Mr. Hurt, we need to look at both (as) victims and move on," he said. "The central problem is, why did it happen?"

Miles said Hurt, who is free on $200,000 bond, would plead not guilty. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Nov. 10.

Hurt, who has worked at the General Motors plant in the city since he was 17, was known in the neighborhood for keeping the area around his house spotless.

"Day in and day out, he was out there cleaning up," said James R. Fleet, a neighbor who was cleaning up leaves in an alley near Hurt's home last week. "He'd be out there early in the morning cleaning up. Mr. Hurt was out there more than anybody."

The trouble began Oct. 10 when a 9-year-old boy threw two buckets on Hurt's porch on a dare and Hurt began chasing the boy and his three friends, police said.

When one 10-year-old boy tripped, Hurt caught him and began beating him "like he's an adult," Sydnor said. Several adults intervened and Hurt told them the children had broken his window.

Hurt went inside and the adults told the children to leave, then left themselves. But the youths stayed, throwing bottles and rocks at Hurt's car and breaking the windshield.

According to police, Hurt walked out onto the second-floor fire escape and fired four shots from his .357 Magnum, hitting Holmes in the back as he ran away.

Police arrested Hurt later that day after he barricaded himself in his house and refused to come out. After almost a week in jail, Hurt was bailed out by relatives, neighbors and co-workers.

Los Angeles Times Articles