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Ceremony Set to Mark 25th Anniversary of Baltimore Det. Marcellus Ward’s Murder

December 2, 2009

A quarter-century ago tomorrow, in an apartment above the Kandy Kitchen store near Union Square in West Baltimore, Baltimore Police Det. Marcellus Ward was murdered during an undercover drug deal. The deadly transaction was recorded by the wire Ward was wearing. The tragedy, which will be commemorated by law enforcers at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the scene where it happened, 1829 Frederick Ave., has had an enduring impact. Ward had many friends, and the way he died has prompted some of them—in particular, two former Baltimore City state’s attorneys, Kurt Schmoke and Stuart Simms—to imbue his senseless death with meaning.

“Listening to the tape, it just—it kind of changed me a great deal,” Schmoke said of Ward’s killing during a 1990 episode of the news show 20/20. By that time, Schmoke had been Baltimore’s mayor for nearly two years and had established a national profile as someone who questioned the drug war. When Ward was killed, though, Schmoke was state’s attorney—and a tough one, at that, having compiled “one of the highest drug conviction rates in the country,” as 20/20‘s John Stossel pointed out.

But Ward’s murder, Schmoke continued, “made me think that the shooter thought more about the money than he did about Det. Ward’s life. And how can we, you know, change that around? And it seems to me we can’t change it as long as there’s big money to be made in drugs. If we don’t have a strategy that takes the profit out of drug distribution, then people will continue to value the money more than they value human life.”

Simms, now a criminal-defense attorney, invoked Ward’s name last year when he testified at a public hearing of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. Simms’ testimony urged Maryland to strongly consider scrapping the ultimate sanction, but, when asked if the death penalty should be maintained in cases where law enforcers are killed, Simms said, “Well, I’d say, initially, that certainly I’m conflicted in some respects. Marcellus Ward was a friend of mine. I took that personally.”

Ward’s killer—Lascell Simmons—did not get the death penalty. Instead, he got life in federal prison. According to court documents, he died of throat cancer earlier this year after serving tough time marked by a debilitating stroke in 1989 and a knife attack by another inmate in 1998.

When Simmons killed Ward, the detective—a 13-year veteran who was serving on a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) task force—was putting the finishing touches on an investigation in which he’d infiltrated a drug organization that was bringing in multiple-ounce quantities of pure heroin to Baltimore from New York. An informant—Craig Boone—had set up the buy for Ward. Later, in 1997, Boone became the first Maryland man given a life sentence under the controversial federal three-strikes law. In pleading for mercy, Boone contended that he suffered from post-traumatic stress after listening to the tape of Ward being killed.

Ward’s heroic demise “remains always on the minds of those who knew him, worked with him, and loved him,” DEA spokesman Ed Marcinko wrote in a press release announcing the 25th anniversary commemoration. “This senseless act of violence against a good man, his City, and the DEA will never be understood. It is our responsibility to continue Marty’s calling to serve and protect, and to never forget his ultimate sacrifice.”

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