One after another, the speakers at a Capitol Hill panel on gun control yesterday delivered their prepared texts, replete with the usual pleas for a halt to the violence and laments over the cheapness of life.
And then James Bias spoke, his face stony and strained, his eyes dry.
"I have to leave here and go bury my son," Bias said.
Three days after his son, James "Jay" Bias, was shot to death during what police termed a random argument at a Prince George's County shopping mall, James Bias went public to argue for gun control.
Like his wife, Lonise, who crusaded against drugs after the 1986 death of their eldest son, basketball star Len Bias, James Bias set out yesterday to turn a personal tragedy into a national campaign against a killer.
"I can't bring Jay Bias back, but if I can influence gun control legislation . . . if I can influence the court system, I have to do that," Bias said.
"The young man who shot my son had no business having that gun, and he has no business now being out on bail."
Prince George's County police have charged Jerry S. Tyler, 24, with first-degree murder in Bias's death.
A decision by Prince George's District Court Judge Sylvania Woods to release Tyler on $50,000 bond provoked a public outcry yesterday from callers who jammed telephone lines to local radio talk shows, politicians' offices and the state's attorney.
Tyler remained in jail last night as his family prepared the paperwork necessary to obtain a property bond, his attorney said.
The earliest he could be released is Monday, when detention center personnel would be available to install monitoring equipment in his home, a jail spokeswoman said.
A warrant also was issued late yesterday for a second suspect, State's Attorney Alex Williams said.
James Bias was accompanied to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence panel session by Jesse L. Jackson. Members of the Krogmann family, whose son, Carl A. Krogmann, was shot to death during a robbery while he was trying to deliver a Domino's pizza in Largo last spring, also were there.
Bias and Jackson said they are going to form a coalition to fight for gun control and to educate youths on alternatives to violence.
Jay Bias, a high school basketball star whose talent at one time promised to rival his brother's, was shot in the back Tuesday afternoon as he and two friends drove out of the parking lot of Prince George's Plaza near Hyattsville.
A few minutes earlier, Bias had argued briefly inside Kay Jeweler's with Tyler, who had stormed into the store while Bias was looking at a ring, according to police and witnesses.
"I'm kind of outraged at the whole thing," Williams said last night of the decision to allow Tyler to be released on bond.
"We put on the record that we thought this was a case for no bond . . . and we are going to look at many things . . . including possible misrepresentations made by the defense attorney."
In arguing for Tyler's release on home detention, defense attorney Victor Houlon said that his client suffers from scleroderma, a condition that Houlon characterized as cancerous and "absolutely fatal" without treatment. Houlon said that Tyler needs continuing chemotherapy to survive.
Medical authorities said yesterday that scleroderma is not cancerous but is a disease that causes a chronic hardening and shrinking of the connective tissue, including the skin, heart, esophagus, kidneys and lungs.
Although the disease can be fatal in its most severe form, many people live for years with minimal affliction, medical authorities said. Anti-inflammatory drugs and occasionally chemotherapy often are given daily in pill form or once a month intravenously, said Virginia Steen, a rheumatologist with the University of Pittsburgh Medical School who specializes in the treatment of scleroderma.
"In some patients, the disease is so mild that they have no limitations and live normal lives," Steen said. "In others, it is devastating within one month."
Houlon said that he had characterized Tyler's disease as it was portrayed to him by his physicians. He would not discuss Tyler's symptoms or say where and by whom he is being treated.
"I don't think the medical issue is relevant because it had little or nothing to do with the decision to grant bond," Houlon said. "The issue is whether or not this man will show up for court, and the judge believed that he would."