A Maryland appeals court has upheld the voluntary manslaughter conviction of a Baltimore drug dealer in an opinion overflowing with disbelief at his argument that he killed a competitor to defend himself and the life of his mother — another drug dealer and a likely aggressor in the fatal 2018 shooting.
In its reported 3-0 decision Dec. 28, the intermediate Court of Special Appeals said Terrance Belton’s argument that he killed Edward Calloway in self- and maternal-defense “packs a heavy emotional punch.” However, the violently competitive, illegal drug market at “the intersection of South Monroe Street and McHenry Street was not the Hallmark Hall of Fame,” the court stated in an opinion by Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr.
Both Belton and his mother were active participants in the drug scene and had prior run-ins with Calloway over control of the South Baltimore neighborhood, the court added in critiquing what it called Belton’s obvious play for the jury’s sympathy.
“In making our mental appraisal of the cold hard facts, therefore, we must scrupulously avoid looking at the scene through the sentimentally distorting lens of James Abbott McNeill Whistler or of Norman Rockwell or of Currier and Ives,” Moylan wrote in referencing chroniclers of domestic bliss.
“The son may have been in league with the mother but he was not protecting a helpless Old Lady from harm,” added Moylan, a retired judge sitting by special assignment. “It was not Whistler’s Mother selling drugs on South Monroe Street. In advancing his claim that he acted in defense of his mother, the son must not be suffered the benefit of an unexamined but powerful stereotype.”
The Court of Special Appeals upheld Belton’s conviction despite agreeing with his contention through counsel that the trial judge erroneously barred, as impermissible hearsay, testimony that Calloway had threateningly said to him and his mother “this is my block” shortly before the slaying.
The appellate court noted that hearsay is defined as an out-of-court statement sought to be introduced at trial for the truth of the matter asserted.
“We agree with the son that the assertion was not hearsay,” Moylan wrote. “It was certainly not offered for the truth of the thing asserted, to wit, that Calloway was licensed, presumably by the city of Baltimore, to exercise a monopolistic privilege to sell contraband narcotics at the intersection of South Monroe Street and McHenry Street.”
Though excluded in error, the statement’s admission would have had no effect on the jury’s verdict in light of the many prior threats and evidence that the mother was an active participant in the hostile communications with Calloway, the Court of Special Appeals held.
According to trial testimony, Calloway and Belton’s mother were brawling on the morning of Dec. 6, 2018, when Belton was told his mother was being physically assaulted. Belton, rushed to the scene, drew his gun and shot Calloway five times due to what Belton said was fear that Calloway would shoot first.
Though Belton was charged with second-degree murder, the Baltimore City Circuit Court jury found him guilty of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter — a verdict the appellate court said he should willingly accept because of the weakness of his argument that he killed Calloway out of reasonable fear for his and his mother’s lives.
“The jury rejected the son’s claim that, under all of the circumstances, such a fear on his part was reasonable,” Moylan wrote.
“On the other hand, the jury obviously accepted the son’s testimony that he genuinely and subjectively harbored such a fear even if it was not reasonable,” Moylan added. “Accordingly, the jury extenuated the son’s degree of blameworthiness from one of second-degree murder to one of manslaughter. The son received the mitigating benefit of imperfect self-defense.”
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the court’s decision.
Belton’s appellate attorney, Assistant Maryland Public Defender Katherine P. Rasin, did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the court’s decision and any plans to seek review by the Court of Appeals.
Belton’s mother, Shakiea Worsley, was found guilty in the same trial and by the same jury of being an accessory to the killing after the fact. The Court of Special Appeals upheld Worsley’s conviction, saying she had not preserved for appeal her argument that the evidence was insufficient to prove her guilt.
Moylan was joined in the opinion by Judges Andrea M. Leahy and Melanie Shaw Geter.
The Court of Special Appeals rendered its decision in the joint cases Terrence (sic) Belton v. State of Maryland and Shakiea Worsley v. State of Maryland, Nos. 720 and 290, September Term 2020.