BANGOR — Yong Cha Jones appears small and fragile as she wraps her arms around herself, casts her eyes downward and speaks softly of her son, his death, and the coming trial of the young man suspected of killing him.
A petite Korean woman, dressed in a black velvet pantsuit, she sits in her large Bangor home framed by her past — family pictures, a Rubik’s cube her son could twist easily into the correct color patterns, mementos of happier times — and questions the future.
“Life and death, there is no difference to me now,” she says quietly, more to herself than to the visitors in her home.
Her smiles are rare and fleeting, coming most often when she talks of the comfort she gets when she makes her daily trip to Mount Hope Cemetery, where she talks to all of the loved ones she has lost in the past four years — her mother and father, who lived beside her for 20 years, her husband and, most tragically, her son.
Laurence Jones Jr. was 24 years old when he was shot in the face and killed in a rough Baltimore neighborhood in November 1993. It took police three years to arrest a suspect in the case, and it has taken another 14 months for the case to go to trial.
Tuesday, 24-year-old James Langhorne, who police say probably robbed Jones to get money for drugs, will stand trial for his murder.
Sunday morning, Yong Cha Jones, accompanied by a close friend, a sister and a nephew, boarded a bus to begin the journey to a Baltimore courthouse where she hopes to find some long-awaited justice for her son.
Her exhaustive campaign to get her son’s suspected killer arrested involved letters to then Maine Sen. William Cohen and Sen. Olympia Snowe, President Clinton, and to the governor and attorney general of Maryland.
A petition signed by 1,600 Mainers urging police to make the investigation a priority was hand-delivered to the Baltimore Police Department by staffers from Cohen’s office. Jones and her husband offered a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who killed their son.
On the third anniversary of his death, just days after police announced the arrest of Langhorne, Yong Cha Jones went to Baltimore and traced her son’s final steps, collapsing on the spot where he was gunned down.
Her tenacity attracted the attention of a Baltimore Sun reporter who managed to get her story on the front page of a paper in a city that averages 350 murders a year.
The murder of Laurence Jones Jr. forever connected the lives of two young men who had chosen vastly different paths.
Jones, called Junior by his parents, grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Bangor. His parents met in the 1960s in Korea, where Laurence Jones Sr. was stationed.
After returning to the United States, the family traveled throughout the country, finally landing in Bangor in 1975. Jones was 7 years old. He quickly made friends in the small, hillside neighborhood off Ohio Street where his mother still lives today.
His route to Fairmount Elementary School led him each day through Hayford Park, where later, as a University of Maine student, he would help build Bangor’s Creative Playground.
When he was 16, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. A sports buff, he played football and hockey and swam at Bangor High School. In 1992, he graduated from the University of Maine with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Laurence Jones Jr. moved to Baltimore in September 1993 to pursue an advanced degree in psychology at Johns Hopkins University.
What he didn’t realize, his mother says, is that he had chosen an apartment in a crime-troubled area where a rash of street robberies was occurring. At 3 a.m. Nov. 20, 1993, as he was walking home to his apartment after an evening out, Jones was mugged. He was shot in the eye and robbed of a gold ring and his wallet. Neither has been recovered. There reportedly were eyewitnesses to the shooting, but police could not come up with the killer.
James Langhorne was 21 when Jones was killed.
Just 10 months earlier Langhorne had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug and handgun violations, but a Baltimore circuit judge suspended all but seven months of the sentence. He was released after serving only a small portion of that sentence, according to reports in the Baltimore Sun.
He was arrested again later and served nearly one year and nine months of a six-year sentence for probation violations. Paroled in November 1996, he was arrested that same month for Jones’ murder.
Langhorne’s father, a maintenance custodian in the Baltimore County public school system, said he didn’t think his son was capable of murder.
“You never know what a person is capable of, but I just don’t think that he could have done something like that,” James Langhorne Sr. told a reporter from the Baltimore Sun.
But police claim the break in the case finally came when the younger Langhorne described the Jones killing to a correctional official with whom he had developed a friendship. He has been in prison since he was arrested for Jones’ murder.
Laurence Jones Sr. did not live to see his son’s suspected killer arrested. He died in 1995 of a heart attack. Now Yong Cha Jones blames herself for his death.
“He had a massive heart attack in the ’70s. He needed a special diet. For 17 years I cook for him. It’s tasteless food, but he eat it because he is a caring and loving husband,” she says, weeping. “Then, when I hear my son is murdered, I stop cooking. We eat out. We eat fast food, and a year and 10 months later he dies of a heart attack.”
So while she doesn’t face the trial alone, she does so without the support of her husband of 31 years.
She is anxious to see the face of the man police say shot and killed her son. “I have a million questions for him. First of all is why. But I don’t think so. It won’t change anything. But I want him to see me and I want to look him in the eye,” she says, summoning enough energy to be angry.
She is not fond of the prosecutor in the case, who she says considers her a “pesty mother.” “But I don’t care, as long as she does her job in that courtroom,” she said.