Posted by - on August 23, 2001 at 19:25:56:
Aug. 23rd, 2001 New York Times article:
Brooklyn Tenant Charged with Murdering City Marshal
By C.J. Chivers
A tenant who had fallen far behind in her rent at an apartment house in Brooklyn was charged yesterday with the murder of a city marshal who was beaten and burned alive while trying to evict her.
The authorities said that the tenant, JoAnne Jones, set upon the marshal in a fury of violence on Tuesday afternoon when he came to padlock her from her second-floor apartment at 50 New York Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, knocking him over a banister and sending him hurtling to a landing below, where his head slammed on a refrigerator as he landed.
As the marshal, Erskine G. Bryce, lay injured and disoriented, the police said, Ms. Jones bounded down the steps, beat him with an aluminum rod and stripped him of his .380-caliber pistol. The attack ended, the police said, only after she splashed him with a flammable liquid, took out a cigarette lighter and set him afire.
Mr. Bryce, 66, was thought to be alert as the flames spread over him. "He was moaning at the time, so we have every reason to believe that he was likely conscious," First Deputy Commissioner Joseph P. Dunne said.
Ellen S. Borakove, a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner's office, said Mr. Bryce had died of blunt trauma injuries to the head and neck, and burns to his head, torso and extremities, "which indicates that he was alive when he was burned."
Ms. Jones, 53, was charged with second- degree murder. Her court appearance was postponed yesterday after she was briefly taken to a Brooklyn hospital with complaints of chest pains, but she was arraigned last night and ordered held without bail. The police said they had found no clear motive for the killing, other than that Ms. Jones owed her landlord about $14,000 in back rent, and that Mr. Bryce had a court order to evict her.
The police said they could find no other explanation for the apparent rage that gripped the tenant as she carried out the sustained attack against the marshal, escalating the violence using makeshift weapons — the aluminum rod and the liquid, possibly paint thinner — that were available in the hallway because it is under renovation.
One police supervisor said that as Mr. Bryce was dying, Ms. Jones's fury subsided and she ran to her apartment several times for basins of water to try to extinguish the flames. She also turned remorseful in a written statement and videotaped confession at the 79th Precinct station house late Tuesday night, the supervisor said.
"She said she is truly sorry and asked for God's forgiveness," the supervisor said. In the confession, she also wrote, "This nightmare got out of hand and was not suppose to happen the way it did."
Other police officials, however, noted that the attack was not the first by Ms. Jones, who served a prison sentence in the 1990's for shooting a teenage boy in the groin. The boy had reportedly been bullying her son, law enforcement officials said.
They also said that Ms. Jones had been as cagey as she had been remorseful, telling detectives at one point that she and Mr. Bryce had merely engaged in a tussle. And for several hours she tried to assign blame for the killing to her boyfriend, Antoine Bennaugh, they said.
One law enforcement official said that Mr. Bennaugh had played no role in the crime, and had been inside the apartment at the time, playing Nintendo. He was released yesterday without being charged.
Mr. Bryce, who lived on Fenimore Street in East Flatbush, was born in Barbados and worked briefly for the postal service in Trinidad before immigrating decades ago. He was appointed a marshal in 1989.
City marshals, who tow cars, evict tenants and collect court judgments, are often regarded as unpopular figures by the people they confront. Ken Kelly, executive director of New York City's Marshals Association, said Mr. Bryce was proud of his job and its title, and he handled his caseload with ease. He recalled recently asking Mr. Bryce when he was going to retire. "He smiled and said, `Never,' " Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Bryce's son, Eaton, 32, a city police officer, said that his father tried to bring compassion to the tense encounters that were part of his job. "He was one of the types of people that if he did an eviction and you had to leave, he would never say, `Excuse me, sir, you have to get out,' " he said. "He would basically say, `Are you all right?' "
On some occasions, Officer Bryce said, his father handed money to people as they left their homes.
Other people who knew Mr. Bryce said he felt a deep satisfaction in the life he had found in New York. His children had jobs in law enforcement — Mr. Bryce's other child, Carol, is a postal police officer — and his family had achieved a measure of financial security. Divorced, he was recently engaged and planned to marry on Nov. 6.
"He had a job he loved," said Andy Thomas, his friend for decades. "A house. His children were doing well for themselves. And now this. It's a horrendous way to go."
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