BALTIMORE, Md. — During the four years since her son was shot to death in a dark, dingy neighborhood in Baltimore, Yong Cha Jones has been unable to control the grief that has taken over her life.
On Tuesday, that grief poured out in a Baltimore courthouse, where the Bangor woman is hoping to find justice for her only child.
The trial of 24-year-old James Langhorne was scheduled to begin Tuesday, but instead the day was filled with preliminary hearings regarding motions filed in the case.
A jury is expected to be picked today and opening arguments are scheduled for the afternoon. The trial is expected to run into next week.
Langhorne is charged with the first-degree murder of 24-year-old Laurence Jones Jr., at 3 a.m. Nov. 20, 1993.
Jones, a graduate of Bangor High School and the University of Maine, had moved to Baltimore just two months before he was shot and killed. With a degree in psychology, he had hoped to pursue a an advanced degree at Johns Hopkins University.
But the well-dressed young man from Maine surely stood out in the downtrodden neighborhood where he rented an apartment. The rows of dilapidated apartment buildings where he lived are directly across the street from what is known as the “Perkins Projects,” a classic inner-city neighborhood, plagued by violence.
Yet the whole neighborhood borders on one of Baltimore’s most trendy and touristy areas called Fells Point, a commercial block of upscale shops, bars and restaurants. The outside of an empty brick building there has been converted into the facade of the Baltimore Police Department and is used as the backdrop for the NBC hit TV show “Homicide.”
It was in Fells Point that Jones spent his last evening. He was returning to his own neighborhood just four or five blocks away and had almost made it home when he was mugged, robbed of his wallet and a gold ring and shot in the eye. He died just steps away from his apartment.
Prosecutors believe Langhorne was one of possibly two men who committed the crime.
No other suspect has been arrested and officials are hesitant to talk about the possibility of a second person’s involvement.
The case went unsolved for three years and eventually was transferred to the “cold case squad” of the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide division.
During that time, Yong Cha Jones and her family wrote letters to politicians and presented the police department with a petition containing the names of 1,700 Mainers requesting more action.
Yong Cha Jones’ tenacity stood out even in a city that averages 350 homicides a year.
Finally on Tuesday, after a two-day bus trip, Jones arrived by a hotel shuttle bus to the steps of the Baltimore Circuit Court and got her first look at the man police say killed her son.
Langhorne, a large, hefty man, was dressed neatly in a sweatshirt and slacks. He conferred with his attorney, often quietly disagreeing with some of the preliminary testimony.
His family sat in the back of the courtroom just feet from where Jones sat with her sister, Yong Im Chung, her friend Brenda Lawson, and her nephew, Jea Chung. The two families grieved separately.
In the morning, during preliminary testimony, William Rice, a man who lives near where the shooting occurred, said he saw Langhorne and another man run by him just before Jones was shot. He said he heard a shot and saw the men run back by.
During the testimony, Jones was held tightly by her family and friends. She sobbed quietly, often doubling over in grief.
During a break, prosecutors cautioned her that the judge would not tolerate any emotion in the courtroom. Jones was told she needed to keep her emotions in check or she risked being asked to leave the proceedings.
“I take another tranquilizer,” Jones said through her tears in a hallway outside the courtroom. “I may sit there like a zombie, but that’s OK. I have to be in the courtroom.”
But later, during preliminary testimony given by the lead detective in the case, Jones rushed to the door of the courtroom and collapsed as she reached the exit. She was attended to by personnel outside the courtroom where she recovered.
The proceedings continued, but such occurrences are more apt to concern the judge today with a jury present.
Detective John T. Brown testified Tuesday that he was assigned the case in July 1996 and the first break came when a prison inmate called the police to tell them that he had information on the Laurence Jones murder.
Alfred Brown told police that Langhorne described the shooting to him while Langhorne was in prison serving time on probation violation charges, Detective Brown testified.
Alfred Brown and Rice picked Langhorne out of a photo lineup, according to testimony.
The proceedings Tuesday involved motions to suppress statements made by Langhorne after he was arrested in November 1996 as well as the photo identifications of Langhorne by Rice.
A motion to exclude from evidence the photo identification of Langhorne by Alfred Brown will be heard this morning, immediately following jury selection.
Judge Kathleen Friedman has so far denied all of Langhorne’s motions.
After her collapse late in the afternoon, Yong Cha Jones stayed on a bench in a hallway outside the courtroom.
Sandra Costley, one of two attorneys prosecuting the case for the State Attorney’s Office, clasped Jones’ shaking hands in her own and assured her that she was not banned from the courtroom, but urged her to get some rest.
“You do the best you can do. You give it your best shot,” a weeping Jones said to the woman.
“You a mother?” she asked the prosecutor.
“I am,” said Costley, “I have a son the same age as yours. My only child.”
“Good,” Jones said softly to the prosecutor. “You give it your best shot.”