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Local mother faces son's killer, shows compassion

January 08, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

Vivian Marshall is in pain, and last Tuesday she wanted to share her pain with as many people as she could.

Marshall lost her 18-year-old son, Desmar Artis, May 20 in a Hagerstown street shooting and she has been crippled with agony, despair and even physical pain since then.

Only recently able to return to work, she testified in Washington County Circuit Court on Tuesday at the sentencing for the man convicted of her son's shooting. She said she still has bouts of uncontrollable sobbing and rarely sleeps through the night.

But the 44-year-old Hagerstown woman demonstrated courage and a forgiving nature as she got her chance to face 20-year-old Michael Williams, who killed her son. She made many others in the full courtroom feel her pain too.

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In her own words:

"On May 20, there was a knock at my door. I thought it was Desmar, and boy was he going to get it for not coming home the night before.

"I went to the door and they told me they were Hagerstown City Police detectives. I asked them over and over to tell me, what did Desmar do? They wouldn't tell me.

"They hung their heads down and said, 'Ma'am, there is no easy way to say this ... Desmar Artis is deceased.'

"I wouldn't believe it, but they said he had a paycheck with his name on it in his pocket.

"Just two weeks earlier, he got a job, he picked out a tuxedo for his girlfriend's prom. I keep thinking he'll knock at my door and say, 'Mom, I'm home,' but that day never comes.

"I still didn't believe it but then the flowers started coming. I had to write an obituary for my 18-year-old baby.

"I remember they told me what clothes they needed to bury him in and they said he didn't need any shoes - he was buried without shoes. They weren't needed, they said.

"We buried him with his Bible, the one engraved with his name that we bought him when he was 12. It was put in his hands and he was holding it. ... I looked at his hands and remembered how he always bit his fingernails.

" 'Ma, why are you crying? ... I'm all right' ... I engraved that on his tombstone. He always said that to me when I'd come to court when he sat where you are sitting now, wearing that little uniform."

At Tuesday's sentencing, Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Gina Cirincion told Judge Kennedy Boone she had prosecuted Artis during several juvenile delinquency hearings in recent years.

"You've destroyed my entire family,'' Marshall said to her son's killer. "I thank the Lord we are a praying family. Now all I have are memories and, you know, the awful memories outweigh the precious ones.

"I feel so sorry for you. It was one thoughtless night.

"I prayed the day after he died, and my husband and I forgave you. You thought murder was the punishment for disrespecting your sister. What do you think your punishment should be for murdering my son?"

Williams' sister, Earlene Williams, told her brother the night of the killing that Artis had touched her inappropriately earlier that evening.

Despite her pain, Marshall said Williams should be given a second chance.

"Let's give Mr. Williams a chance. Maybe something good will come out of this," she said.

Desmar Artis' father, Claude Artis, then stood and said he didn't share his former wife's forgiving nature toward the murderer of his son.

"We need to stop the flood of victims. We must put away the Michael Williamses. If he still figures it's not his fault, he can do it again."

Boone listened to the mother's sorrow and the father's anger and expressed some of both in his own remarks.

"Mr. Williams comes to Hagerstown ... no verification of a job, no fixed address," Boone said.

"You took a loaded gun where there was going to be a confrontation. You had time to cool off but didn't ... you fired not one but four shots ... You were stone-cold sober.

"You have a mother here who has stood up and pled for you. For her sake, she has been able to forgive you, but I don't forgive you.

You're only 20 1/2 years old, but you are old in experience. Now it's time to take out the trash," Boone said.

Williams also spoke at length in the emotional hearing. He defended his actions that night, insisting still that Artis also had a gun and pulled it first.

No such gun was ever found, according to testimony at the trial in November.

Williams said he grew up in different circumstances in Baltimore where self-protection was vital.

"I never intended to kill anyone that night," Williams said. "I'm no cold-blooded killer."

Then Williams turned again to Artis' family.

"I didn't make (your son) do what he did to my sister," Williams said. "But I can't take it back."

The tragedy of the incident touched everyone.

Desmar Artis is dead, Michael Williams will spend most if not all of his life behind bars, and Vivian Marshall and Claude Artis will never again see their son, or the promise of his life come to fruition.

(Note: Williams was sentenced Tuesday to life plus 10 years for first-degree murder and use of a handgun in a crime of violence. A Washington County Circuit Court jury convicted him of those offenses in November.)

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