Fathers in Maryland cab driver's killing come together

 By TIM PRATT
The Capital
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- The families sat on opposite sides of the courtroom.

On the right were the loved ones of 41-year-old Benjamin Kirby Jr., an Annapolis cab driver who was shot and killed during an armed robbery in March 2014.
On the left was the family of Michael Wallace, 24, who was being sentenced to 50 years in prison for Kirby's murder.

No one would have begrudged the families any animosity:
Kirby's family says his life was taken too soon. Wallace, one of two men who pleaded guilty to the killing, will spend much of his adult life behind bars.

 But in the days since Wallace's March 24 sentencing, the families have taken steps to make amends.

The fathers of the two men, Armand Wallace of Laurel and Benjamin Kirby Sr. of Annapolis, reconciled over breakfast recently. They met at Old Country Buffet in Annapolis, and over pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage, agreed to move forward as friends.
"I'm really sorry my son is gone," Kirby told The Capital. "But I believe we can turn some of this around for some good for somebody who may be going through something similar. They can see these two families have gotten together and forgiven each other, and maybe they can do the same thing."

Heather Amador, director of Victim Witness Services at the Anne Arundel County State's Attorney's Office, said her office doesn't often see the families of crime victims bonding with families of suspects.
If families do decide to meet, Amador said, it "absolutely has to be mutually agreeable and truly desired by both."


Amador said the Victim Witness Services unit doesn't make recommendations one way or the other on whether families should contact each other. Every case is unique.
Judges often order suspects not to have contact with victims or victims' families. But judges don't often order suspects' families not to make contact with victims' families unless there have been reports of threats or intimidation.

Amador didn't handle the case involving Benjamin Kirby Jr. But she said that in general, forgiveness -- along with counseling -- can help such families deal with their grief.

Armand Wallace first reached out to Kirby through Facebook. Then he called Kirby shortly after his son's sentencing and invited him to breakfast.
"We could have looked the other way," Armand said. "It wouldn't have done good for the family or for the community."

Kirby said he also forgives Michael Wallace's co-defendant, Trevor Snead, 19, of Riva. Snead pleaded guilty to the murder, too, and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 15.
JoAnn Snead, Trevor's grandmother, said she is thankful Kirby has forgiven her grandson.

"That takes a big person," she said. "I've been wanting to reach out to the Kirbys, but I didn't know how they would receive me or if that was even my place."
Later, she said, "If I ever had the opportunity to meet with the Kirbys, I'd be glad to."

Snead's mother declined comment.
His father and stepmother, Gilbert and Jennifer Snead, said in a statement they wanted to reach out to Kirby to offer condolences many times, but were unsure when to do so "as we did not want him to endure more pain from our advances."

"We hope Mr. Kirby gains closure as justice is served," the statement continues. "This was such a senseless and tragic crime that has affected so many lives. Mr. Kirby will miss his son every day. While our pain will never compare to Mr. Kirby's, we are saddened by all of life's experiences that Trevor will never have while he is serving his sentence. We are very humbled that Mr. Kirby has forgiven Trevor for his actions. This is a testament to his strength and we hope this brings him peace."
According to prosecutors, the younger Kirby picked up Wallace and Snead, then 17, from an Annapolis Burger King in the early morning hours of March 12, 2014, and drove them to Honeysuckle Lane in Crownsville.

There, prosecutors said, Kirby was shot and robbed. It is unclear who pulled the trigger.

Snead told police Wallace shot Kirby with a handgun that Snead stole in a burglary, then took cash from Kirby's pockets. Wallace told investigators Snead shot Kirby.
Prosecutors said Wallace and Snead then pulled Kirby's body out of the cab, moved the vehicle a short distance and wiped it down in an effort to remove evidence. Then the pair fled on foot.

 Kirby had fares throughout the night, but police didn't find any cash on him or in his cab. The contents of his wallet were on the ground.
Police got a break in the case when officers responded to a burglary in the 700 block of Governor Bridge Road in south county. Inside the home, police found Snead, who was arrested.

Officers found a truck they determined Snead had stolen in Charles County. Snead had run away from a group home in Charles County not long before the murder, his grandmother said.
Inside the truck, police found pants with bloodstains on them. Investigators determined the blood was Kirby's. DNA on the waistband matched Wallace.

Police also found rounds of .45-caliber ammunition in the truck, consistent with a casing found at the Crownsville crime scene. A latent fingerprint from the door of Kirby's cab matched Snead, police said.
Investigators also used cellphone records to tie the men to the crime. Both were charged. Although he was 17, Snead was charged as an adult.

Over the past year, the older Kirby has struggled to deal with the loss of his only son.
The two shared everything, he said, and were working together on a natural medicine business at the time of the younger man's death. The younger Kirby was driving a cab as he attempted to turn his life around.

The younger Kirby recently had returned from a 13-year prison stint for drug distribution. He was refocusing his life on providing for his family -- he left two children behind -- making music and living healthily.
The older Kirby has received support from family and friends since his son's death. His faith has also helped him, he said.

But he admits it hasn't been easy, especially immediately after the killing. And the relationship between his and Wallace's family wasn't great right away.
"We had a little rocky start once it happened," Kirby acknowledged, "but . I found that Mr. Wallace's father is a Christian person, and we realized that harm had been done to both of our families. But unless you forgive, you can't expect God to forgive you."

Not all of Kirby's family is so willing to forgive. The younger Kirby's aunt, Barbara Offer of Annapolis, said she hasn't forgiven either of the men.
But Offer said she does believe Michael Wallace is remorseful, based on his emotional apology to the Kirby family during his sentencing.

"As far as forgiving, I'm not there," Offer said. "Compassion, yes, but I don't think I will ever get to that point."
The incident also has affected the families of Wallace and Snead.

Wallace, who attended Annapolis High School, played football and ran track. Snead bounced around between family members and group homes.
At some point, family members said, both got into drugs.

Armand Wallace looks at a picture of his son every day when he goes to work at Walter Reed Medical Center. He knows it will be years before he sees him free.
Some friends have pulled away from the Wallaces since the incident, said Felecia Wallace, Michael's mother. There has been division among people who knew both families, she said.

The Snead family also has dealt with mixed reactions from the community, JoAnn said, though her friends and neighbors have been supportive.
JoAnn said her grandson still denies pulling the trigger, but she has told him he's still responsible.

Asked about Snead, the older Kirby said, "I have to forgive him, as well. When we hold forgiveness, how can I say `Lord, forgive me of my sins,' but I'm holding this against somebody else?"   At the end of Kirby's breakfast with Armand Wallace, the men embraced and clasped hands.

"I really thank God for the relationship Mr. Kirby and I have created with each other," Armand said. "Now it's about displaying what we've shown, about how important it is to reach other people who may have experienced the same thing we've gone through.

"Healing is there if you want it."
   ------
Information from: The Capital, http://www.capitalgazette.com/



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