Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore (2/3)

In part two, retired Baltimore Homicide Detective Kelvin Sewell and investigative journalist Stephen Janis discuss what speaking to those accused of murder can teach about the failures of our society

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

We’re continuing our discussion about the book Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore. We’re joined by the book’s two authors.

We’re joined by Kelvin Sewell. He’s a Baltimore born and raised, 22-year now retired veteran murder police. He won many awards and recognitions along the way. He currently serves as the chief of police of Pocomoke on the Eastern shore of Maryland.

His co-author is Stephen Janis. He’s a longtime award-winning investigative journalist, currently investigative producer with FOX45.

Thanks so much for joining us.

STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER, FOX45: Thanks for having us.

KELVIN SEWELL, POCOMOKE CHIEF OF POLICE: Nice to be here.

NOOR: So you start your book by talking about the box and people know what the box is because it’s on every murder show. It’s where you, as a homicide detective, you interrogate your suspects. And this is where you kind of square off with them. Some of the people you talked about in the book were–they are all guilty of the crimes they were accused of. And oftentimes you knew they were guilty, but you had to get them to talk.

SEWELL: That’s correct.

NOOR: So talk about what you did, the first thing you would say to these people, these suspects, to get them to talk and why.

SEWELL: Well, some cases are different [incompr.] the individuals. And when you go into the box, the box is about maybe an eight by ten sized room with–of any interview room, a table and three chairs, one for a primary and secondary detective, the other one for the person that you are interviewing or interrogating in reference to the crime they committed.

And basically you get people inside the interview room that was, again, what we call the box, and we try to get them to confess to crimes that they committed, and mainly homicides. And a lot of the times you meet individuals who don’t want to cooperate, who try to act like they don’t understand what you’re talking about, like the crime that they committed. So sometimes you’ve got to break the ice little bit. You’ve got to go into other kind of investigative tools. One I developed: called let’s start by saying the ABCs. And you’d be surprised, ’cause a lot of smart people in Baltimore–.

NOOR: So that’s probably the last thing anyone would expect to hear.

SEWELL: Exactly. That’s the last thing they want to hear: I want to know if you’re capable of understanding me if you know your ABCs. There’s a lot of educated people in Baltimore City, but a lot of people who are committing these crimes don’t understand the 26 letters of the English– the letters that we–our alphabets. So what I try to do is get them to break the ice by having them say their ABCs. And you would be surprised. These criminals out there who are committing these crimes, probably ’cause of the miseducation they’d been receiving growing up, don’t know the 26 letters of the alphabet.

NOOR: And you said in the book not a single person who was convicted of murder that you investigated could recite the alphabet.

SEWELL: Not the ones I had to use that technique for–could not recite the alphabet, no.

JANIS: Well, I was going to say, I mean, I remember when Kelvin told me that one of the reasons why we started the book off was that was just to me so emblematic of the problem, that people can’t, are not versed in the language of society. That only signifies, I think, more, even deeper, their isolation, which is a big theme that Kelvin and I would talk about. You know, you go out to these neighborhoods that are basically, like, dysfunctional oases, where nothing really works, and especially the education system. And so there aren’t many options. It was just that when Kelvin told me that story, I was just dumbfounded that–. Mut also in a sense it sort of made sense in a lot of ways as to why certain parts of Baltimore seem stubbornly violent.

NOOR: And so you talk about your interactions with many of these suspects. Tell us about the first person, the first suspect you talk about in your book. He has a nickname. His nickname was “Ant Mill”. Talk about who that was and why you wanted to share that story in the book.

SEWELL: This was a case involving an individual by the name of Pedro Taylor [spl?].

JANIS: Pedro Taylor. Yeah. Petro Taylor.

SEWELL: Pedro Taylor was a local gang member from the Tree Top Piru, which is a knockoff from the Bloods gang. And Pedro Taylor was given a task by the OG, which is the head of the gang, that Tree Top Piru gang, to go deliver some money to the Baltimore County Detention Center to give to one of the other gang members who was arrested. I believe it was, like, $200. Pedro Taylor decided he–.

JANIS: Yeah, it was 200.

SEWELL: Yeah.

JANIS: Mhm.

SEWELL: He wasn’t going to do that. So he decided–he didn’t make that trip and kept the money. And when we got a call to respond to the Red Carpet Inn up at Reisterstown Road in Baltimore City, that’s where we discovered that something had occurred in that room. Prior to us even going to the Red Carpet Inn, we got a call out to Leakin Park in Baltimore City, where we found Pedro Taylor’s body. It was burnt–it was burnt to no end. You couldn’t tell who the individual was just by that body laying there in the park.

So what drew us back to the Red Carpet Inn was the individuals who killed Pedro Taylor had wrapped him up in a blanket, the blanket that was actually in the Red Carpet Inn. And he was killed. He was beaten there, but he didn’t die until he got to Leakin Park. And Pedro was put into the trunk of a car inside that blanket. They decided to clean the room up. And so they wanted to put–they took the phone, they took the remote control to the TV, and they also took another device, and they put it all in the blanket with Pedro Taylor, put him in the trunk of the car.

JANIS: And they took a pillow too.

SEWELL: The pillow.

JANIS: Yeah, they had a pillow.

SEWELL: And they all drove to Leakin Park to–.

NOOR: Which our audience might know from the show Serial on NPR. It’s known as, like, a burial ground–

JANIS: Dumping ground.

NOOR: –a dumping ground for bodies in Baltimore.

JANIS: All the time.

SEWELL: That’s correct. Yes. Found a lot of bodies there.

And what these young–I’m going to call them young criminals–did–.

NOOR: They were teenagers.

SEWELL: Teenagers, yes. They–

JANIS: They were teenagers.

SEWELL: –they were teenagers. They took Pedro out of the blanket, and they put the blanket on the side, and they put the–I guess–and they laid his body out, and they doused his body with gasoline and set him on fire.

JANIS: And remember that Ant Mill dropped that–he said later he dropped the match on the body. Like, he–I guess it was sort of like a flourish. He picked it up and dropped it,–

SEWELL: Yes.

JANIS: –supposedly, according to the people you talk to.

And then, when you’re up there on homicide–. When Kelvin told me this story, it was one of those stories that is so, like, I guess, representative of how he is as a police officer, because he’s sitting there, and Ant Mill was smoking a cigarette, and Kelvin tells him to put the match out with his fingers, which is, like, just something–there aren’t many cops who are going to tell you a moment like that, a moment that’s very human, right, because it’s not, like, something you would expect a police officer to do or even share, and then Ant Mill doesn’t want to do it.

SEWELL: And he said, this is going to burn my finger. I said, how do you think Pedro Taylor felt when you doused him and set them on fire? And Pedro was still alive, ’cause we did the autopsy on Pedro–he had burnt leaves in his system.

NOOR: He had been stabbed, like, 20 times.

JANIS: Twenty times.

NOOR: He was lying there.

JANIS: So he was still breathing, ’cause the medical examiner found leaves in his lungs, meaning that when they dropped that match, he was still breathing.

SEWELL: Yes.

JANIS: So this case, the case is just–I think if you–I think for people to understand it, a lot of things–to people, murders are some sort of thing to watch and it’s kind of interesting, but go up to Reisterstown Road, and one of the reasons we were so descriptive, you know, go to that hotel, look around, and just get the sense of the bleakness of that area and the bleakness of the lives. And people would say, well, we’re not just going to kill this guy, but we’re going to wait, we’re going to beat him up, then put them in the trunk and drive around. One of the girls went to a gas station and poured out some soda and filled it up with gasoline so they have gasoline to burn him. It was so premeditated.

And, I mean, we don’t know exactly what happened, but it seems that there was no one at that time–I think it was Kelvin was saying to me, nobody said, maybe we shouldn’t do this; we just beat him up. I mean, as we point out in the book, if they just left him in the hotel room that day, he would’ve recovered and it would have been a minor crime.

SEWELL: Exactly.

JANIS: But the whole idea of driving around the city, going to Leakin Park, making this very conscious decision, is one of those things, I think, that’s inexplicable in terms of human nature. It’s the type of stuff that Kelvin sees that just–it’s hard to really understand on any level of humanity, but I think it speaks to some of the other issues that we don’t think about that must in some way infiltrate this process. You know?

NOOR: And so–. Go ahead.

SEWELL: And remember, Pedro was still alive, because once he got to the Leakin Park, they felt from the movement inside the trunk, that’s when they decided to stab him about 21 times. And at that point he still didn’t die, because of the burnt leaves in his system.

What got us back to the Red Carpet Inn was the items that he took out of the hotel room–the phone and the remote control, any other–I forget the other device they took out of there–and they had the address of the hotel. So that’s why when we finished the scene there at Leakin Park, we responded up to the hotel, and that’s where we discovered the room where he was actually beat up and the blood and everything else. So we knew the actual scene took place there.

NOOR: And this was all caught on–and the taking of the body from the room to the car was all caught on surveillance tape.

SEWELL: Yes. And then, once we got the individual to identify the surveillance tape, we started bringing them in one at a time. And then, by being teenagers, teenagers tend to–like, they talk. A lot of teenagers talk. And they start, well, who was this? Who was this? This is so-and-so, this is so-and-so. So we got to identify everybody who was involved in that incident. And as a result, it was a successful case that was prosecuted in Baltimore City court.

NOOR: And from the book, you wrote what struck you was the attitude of these young men and women that took part in this.

SEWELL: Basically, except for one girl–it was a teenage girl–the rest of them it was I don’t care, basically, attitude. And I try to get to these young people: you just took a few human life, and you went out afterwards, you did this, you went and you–a couple of them went to a local store, corner store, hung out with their friends. Some of them went just riding around the city. But it was, like, nothing. It was one went back to school, went to a school in Georgia, and at that point tried to clean the evidence up by cleaning the trunk of a car up, which had some of the blood left from Pedro Taylor there. And it was like they went on with their normal lives after this crime was committed. And it was amazing, because when we reached out to some of these kids, I want to call them, they had no sense of what they did. I mean, it didn’t affect them at all. And that’s what surprised our detectives at homicide.

NOOR: And there was another case you talk about in your book where you talk about a young girl being murdered for her cell phone. And immediately after, the killer takes the half-eaten sandwich she was eating, and they pick it up and they continue to eat that sandwich from the victim. Talk about that case.

SEWELL: That’s correct. This was Nicole Edmonds, a young girl. And she in this case really got to them, because when we found Nicole’s body underneath the JFX bridge, I remember going to [incompr.] the hospital and her father was laying over top of her. Her father was a minister here in Baltimore City. And he leaned over top of her. And it kind of like–his daughter laying on the table–. Homicide detective is normal. They’re normal as well. I have daughters that–I had daughters that age, and it kind of make you draw back to this could have been my daughter. And the only thing I could say to that man was, I promise you I will find out who did this. And he held me to that. And we began working on the case. And as a result, we came up with an individual who we brought in involved in the case, who chased the young girl before she was killed, and who was with the suspect who actually stabbed her, and he gave us some information. And that information, we were able to develop a suspect in this case and brought her in.

Now, during that homicide, Nicole was slapped by the individual, the male teenager, and after the female teenager stabbed her, said that she–Nicole was getting off work at the Wendy’s–she worked at Wendy’s in Baltimore County, getting off the subway. And she had a sandwich in her hand, that she was going to finish off probably on her way home or when she got home. But this suspect, the teenage suspect who killed her, after she had took Nicole’s cell phone, she picked up the half-eaten sandwich and then continued to eat it as they walked away from the scene.

NOOR: And this young woman who was the suspect and who was convicted of this murder, she was–you call her a child herself. And she was–her kind of life, her case represented a lot of what the most vulnerable populations experience in the city and the hopelessness and the desperation they feel.

SEWELL: That’s correct. She was–to me, she’s a teenager, but to me teenagers are kids. They’re still developing, still learning. And she, when she committed this crime, she was smart enough to try to hide herself in Prince George’s County, where we located her at. And she was arrested there. But she–no remorse at all.

NOOR: She was 16 years old.

SEWELL: Yes. She was 16. With no remorse at all. We interviewed her inside of the interview room. Basically, hey, what’s done is done. And we move on from there. And the young lady and the young man who was involved in it, they went to jail for probably most of their young life. And it’s basically like I always say: your family is destroyed now because of what you did, and Nicole Evans’ family was destroyed because she’s not there anymore. So both families suffer at the end.

NOOR: And you say this lack of empathy, it kind of–it’s a clue to this bigger problem, the reason–one of the reasons you feel there is so much murder and violence in this city. Talk about what that, what the lack of empathy, what that–what you feel stems from and the overall society’s responsibility.

SEWELL: Well, what I talked about before was the miseducation of some of these young people in Baltimore City. A lot of kids are joining gangs as early as middle school grades, and now they’re recruiting from middle school grades and high school grades. Fortunately, they’re leaving the elementary school grades alone. And once they join these gangs, kids got to understand, once you’re in a gang, you’re in a gaing. There’s no way out other than that death. And once they get in, they make these grown-up decisions they can’t get out of, and they start doing things at the request of the gangs–breaking the law, even committing homicides. And a lot of that is based on gang affiliation.

JANIS: One of the reasons that we use the idea of pathology as a metaphor or as sort of representative is that the murders and these behaviors, like lack of empathy, are symptoms, to a certain extent, of something that is communal. And so the lack of empathy that you see in children, I think, speaks wholly to the idea of how the community functions, and if the community is functional, and it speaks to–.

NOOR: Or if there even is a community.

JANIS: If there even is a community–an even better way of putting it. Thank you. And that’s why–because Kelvin would talk about these things, and I’d be like, are you serious? Or even the–I think, Devon Richardson, the 14-year-old who shot the woman and said, can I go home now, after he confessed to killing a 67-year-old lady. These things become symptomatic and symptoms that we sort of have to say is part of a larger problem. Then, of course, you don’t want to take away personal responsibility in that equation. That’s not fair. But if you see this kind of pattern consistently–and certainly that pattern emerges in the cases that Kelvin worked–then you have to sort of say, okay, this is, like, intrinsic. Something systematic is happening or something universal. These kids are having the same experiences. They’re experiencing the same sort of issues, and they’re ending up with same sort of attitudes. What is it? And I think you’re right and it really is something vested in the community.

And I think that’s why we took that step of calling the book The Pathology of Murder, not just murder in Baltimore, because we were trying to see is people who care, where do these symptoms [incompr.] why is this community dysfunctional, and why does it end up in Kelvin’s lap in these cases where he’s in the box with these poor kids who have just basically eradicated a life and at the same time were not cognizant of what that means.

NOOR: And you write in the book that these are populations that are ignored. They’re disinvested from–and people that you only hear from once they kill someone else. That’s the only reason they’d be on the map that anyone would know exist.

JANIS: That is exactly the case. These cases create–you know, the media we will–we cover it. If there is an outbreak of violence, we cover it. If there’s a fight in the school, we cover it. But we go from crime to crime. It’s one of the reasons we wrote the book, because as reporter, as Kelvin, we go from crime to crime to crime, but there’s no connection between the two.

SEWELL: I agree.

NOOR: Okay. Well, that wraps it up for this part of this discussion. In the next part, I want to talk about the two cases in your book which personally affected you and had, like, a huge impact on you as a person and your career.

So I want to thank you both for joining us again for this segment.

And thank you for joining us at TheRealNews.com.

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