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Bias Family To Attend All-Too-Familiar Court

Prince George's County Courtroom Trial Maryland | Leonard Stamm AttorneyAlleged Killers Of Son Jay To Go On Trial

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 22, 1991 ; Page D03

Almost four years ago, James and Lonise Bias sat in a Prince George's County courtroom watching the trial of Brian Lee Tribble unfold. Tribble was charged with supplying the cocaine that killed the couple's son, University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, whose death spotlighted a familiar American tragedy: a young life ended by drugs.

This week the couple will return to the Upper Marlboro courthouse and listen as the story of another familiar American tragedy is told: a young life ended by a handgun.

The victim this time was not an All-America athlete headed for a basketball career with the Boston Celtics; he was the star's younger brother, James S. "Jay" Bias III, a mail room clerk for Sovran Bank.

The shots that killed Jay Bias Dec. 4 echoed loudly across the Washington area, stirring a wave of anger over the easy availability of guns and the willingness of assailants to open fire at the least perceived insult.

The accused gunman in the slaying, Jerry S. Tyler, 25, and his alleged accomplice, Gerald W. Eiland, 20, will go on trial together tomorrow in Circuit Court, each charged with first-degree murder and a long list of related crimes. If convicted, they could receive life sentences.

"It's really a sad situation, but we hope justice will prevail," said State's Attorney Alex Williams. "I just think {the Bias couple} are strong, strong people. They've been through a lot, and we all should admire their strength, sitting through two trials."

Just as Lonise Bias took up the anti-drug cause and became a widely traveled lecturer after Len's death, her husband has become an outspoken advocate of gun control in the wake of Jay's slaying.

"I can't bring Jay back, but if I can influence gun-control legislation, if I can influence the court system, I have to do it," the father said at a Capitol Hill panel discussion on handgun violence in December.

"The young man who shot my son had no business having that gun," James Bias added.

The couple declined to be interviewed for this article. But their secretary said they plan to attend the Tyler and Eiland trial, which is expected to last three to five days, in the same brick courthouse on Main Street where they watched a jury acquit Tribble of cocaine-distribution charges in 1987. Tribble since has been imprisoned for unrelated federal drug crimes.

Jay Bias, 20, a former high school basketball standout, was shot in midafternoon in the parking lot of Prince George's Plaza in Hyattsville. He was pronounced dead in the same Leland Memorial Hospital emergency room where his brother died of cocaine ingestion in June 1986.

Investigators said the shooting resulted from a chance encounter in the mall between Bias and Tyler, with Tyler accusing Bias of flirting with his wife, a jewelry store clerk. Tyler allegedly threatened Bias in the mall, then settled the matter outside with a 9mm semiautomatic.

Assistant State's Attorney Mark Foley, who will prosecute Tyler and Eiland, said Bias and Tyler's wife had been high school classmates but not close friends. They had not seen each other since graduating, he added.

Bias, on his lunch break Dec. 4, had stopped in the jewelry store to pick up a ring. When Tyler came in, Foley said, Bias and Tyler's wife were merely exchanging pleasantries.

Tyler allegedly was irate and trailed Bias out of the store, daring him to fight. Later, as Bias was leaving the mall's parking lot in a Toyota 4Runner with two friends, a green Mercedes-Benz allegedly driven by Eiland approached from behind. Tyler, in the front passenger seat, allegedly leaned across Eiland and fired a volley of shots out the driver's side window. Two of the slugs struck Bias in the back.

"I didn't think he was ever going to stop shooting," said Andre Campbell, who was in the Toyota with Bias.

Although a judge set bail for Tyler and Eiland at $50,000, Tyler, of Temple Hills, remains in Prince George's Correctional Center. Eiland, of Southeast Washington, posted bail and was released.

Campbell and Bias's other companion, Tydus Mathis, who worked with Bias and Campbell in the mail room, have identified Tyler as the gunman and Eiland as the driver of the Mercedes-Benz, according to police.

Eiland is charged with first-degree murder under a legal theory known as accomplice liability. Prosecutor Foley will try to prove that Eiland knew what Tyler planned to do and helped him.

Eiland's two attorneys, Alan J. Goldstein and Leonard R. Stamm, will argue the opposite. "Our position is: Our client didn't do anything wrong," Stamm said. "It was sudden, it was unprovoked, it was unjustified. But he didn't know what was going to happen. He didn't help it happen. He didn't do anything. He just thought they were going to leave the mall."

In unsuccessfully arguing for separate trials, Tyler's attorneys, Richard A. Finci and Victor A. Houlon, said Tyler and Eiland have "conflicting defenses." The attorneys said they will contend that it was Eiland who did the shooting.

A few days after Jay Bias's slaying, as 3,500 mourners filed through Full Gospel AME Zion Church in Temple Hills, the Rev. John A. Cherry stood near the young man's bronze coffin and said, "We need to get past who pulled the trigger. All of us must take part of the blame."

Three days after his son's death, James Bias appeared on Capitol Hill to support tougher gun-control laws. "I have to leave here and go bury my son," he said.

"Mr. Bias should be commended for taking a stand," said State's Attorney Williams. "He's exerting energy. He's taking a national stand. He's looked beyond his personal tragedy. And I admire that."

Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Washington Post and may not include subsequent corrections.