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In City, Demand Visits Supply

COMMENTARY by Helen Ubiñas
November 10, 2005

It was an all-too-familiar courthouse confrontation between the families of the defendant and the victim, but it was also a sobering display of how the drug trade reaches far beyond city limits.

Deborah Lathrop was walking into the courtroom this week when she found herself in the middle of friends and relatives of the young man accused of killing her son during a botched drug deal three years ago.

"If your son would have just kept his white ass home, none of this would have happened," someone yelled.

The trial winding up at Superior Court in Hartford isn't a routine murder case, if any murder case can be called routine. What happened the night a white man from Colchester came into the city to buy drugs illuminated the suburbs' role in Hartford's drug violence, a clandestine relationship of supply and demand, of two worlds intersecting in a place where no one is innocent.

The night Lathrop's son died, witnesses said, he was looking to buy drugs.

And police say 19-year-old Rondell Bonner, one of the two men accused of killing him, was looking to sell them.

Of course Lathrop wants to know how and why her son died. But it is the hour between a call to his girlfriend and when he was found dead on a Hartford street that consumes her. Why was he in that car? What was he doing on that street at that hour? She's convinced that he wasn't alone.

It seems so obvious to anyone. It was obvious to cops, who from the beginning called the shooting "narcotics-related." But it's hard for Lathrop, a mother, to admit.

She fears her son will be remembered only as just another drug user; she wants more than that. She wrote a letter about him to make sure I knew the other parts of Scott Houle.

"What I need today is that people know my son for what he was," she said. A father, a hard worker, a son she still refers to in the present tense.

"Don't tell him I showed you this picture," she says when she pulls out a goofy picture of Scott from the stack of childhood photos of him she keeps in her purse.

But she also talks about the time she found him walking down a Colchester street in the dead of winter without a shirt on, high out of his mind. About going to a party two years later, where he didn't expect to see her, and finding him high again. About his asking his cousin for money for drugs.

The reality is that whatever else he was, Scott Houle was also a drug user, one of the many suburban users who use this city as a place to buy their drugs and hide their secrets.

It was 1 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2002, when police found 31-year-old Scott Houle shot in the head and slumped in a car that had crashed into a fence on Cabot Street.

Wednesday, there were a few more looks from the Bonner family. A few more remarks. But the thing is, Lathrop says, she's not mad at Bonner's mother. They have more in common than some might think, she says: Both have seen their sons claimed by the violence of the drug trade.

"You think it'll ever end?" she wonders.

I thought about her question later that afternoon when I found myself on the street where her son died, behind a white couple in a Toyota Camry who clearly knew their way around.

After a quick stop on the one-way street, an even quicker exchange with a group of black kids, off they went. Zip, zip, zip down a few streets and back on the highway again.

The car headed back into the suburbs.

The kids on the block waiting for their next customer.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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