ANNAPOLIS — Eric Ali never was criminally charged in the beating death of a 14-year-old boy in Crofton nearly two years ago.
But Wednesday, he paid a price for any involvement he had in the 2009 attack on Christopher Jones — by handing over his size 9½ New Balance sneakers to the dead boy’s parents and walking out of the Anne Arundel County Courthouse in his socks.
“It was priceless,” said Christopher’s mother, Jennifer Adkins. “My son is probably looking down smiling from ear to ear now.”
Adkins and Christopher’s father, David Jones, settled a wrongful death lawsuit against one of the two teens who punched their boy, as well as four other young men, including Ali, they believe incited the assault.
No settlement was made with the sixth teen, Javel George, who was 15 at the time of the assault and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in juvenile court. Richard Jaklitsch, who represents Christopher’s parents, said he will proceed with a civil trial against Javel.
“He is the primary defendant in this case . so they (Christopher’s parents) got the best of both worlds,” he said.
The settlement came about two weeks after a county judge dropped the county school board from the suit, ruling that there was no liability on the part of county schools in the attack, despite claims school officials promised to protect Christopher.
Christopher’s parents continued to seek $10 million in damages from the six young men involved in the attack. As part of Wednesday’s settlement, Adkins and Jones signed a confidentiality agreement and cannot disclose the amount of money they’ll receive from the settlement with the boys.
But Adkins said she is satisfied with the outcome, especially after she nabbed the pair of fairly new teal blue and gray sneakers from Ali.
Adkins and Jones arrived at Circuit Court in Annapolis Wednesday for a settlement conference in a visiting judge’s chambers. Adkins said that before she knew it, attorneys were throwing out numbers.
“Eric Ali said he had no money,” she said. “. I said to the judge, ‘He’s got on a pretty new pair of New Balances.’ ”
She said Ali had nerve to walk into court “crying poverty” and wearing expensive new shoes.
“I said, ‘OK, we’ll make a deal. We’ll settle this case with him, but he needs to throw in his shoes,’ ” Adkins said. “It was principle at that point. We’ll take what he has.”
She said Ali’s attorney advised his client to keep the shoes on his feet. Christopher’s parents gave Ali one last chance to settle. Within minutes, the New Balance sneakers were handed over.
“No amount of money is ever going to bring our child back, but to know he had to walk out of the courthouse in his socks is just priceless,” Adkins said. “We were walking out and I just told him it was a small price to pay for my son’s life.”
Ali’s attorney did not return phone calls for comment.
In his 28 years as an attorney, Jaklitsch said he has never seen a pair of sneakers make or break a settlement.
He said Ali wearing expensive sneakers and claiming he was poor was “the bur under the saddle.”
“In the end, I think those shoes meant more than the money,” Jaklitsch said.
Adkins said the shoes were the closure she and her ex-husband needed.
According to prosecutors, Christopher was riding his bike on Nantucket Drive just after 4 p.m. on May 30, 2009 when he was approached by six teens. An argument erupted and two teens punched the boy in the face, rupturing a vertebral artery in the back of his neck and causing his death.
George and another teen, who was 14 at the time, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in December 2009. Each was sentenced to the custody of a juvenile detention center until he’s rehabilitated or turns 21.
Police never charged Ali or the other three young men who approached Christopher. Prosecutors said they violated no laws.
Jaklitsch, however, argued that under civil law the three juveniles and Ali were “just as culpable” as the two who threw the punches. In the lawsuit, he said they “encouraged and incited” the assault on Christopher and then “blocked him from escaping.”