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Published: Sunday, 8/29/2010

Toledoan found faith after taking man's life in '72

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

It happened about 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 24, 1972, when his head and heart were so filled with anger that he pointed the pistol into the darkness of Lincoln Avenue and pulled the trigger.

"I remember when the first shot was fired, fire come out the gun. Turned my head and fired the second," Quinn said softly. "I regret it to this very day."

He said he had just gotten home from working the late shift as a tool-and-die maker at AP Parts, an auto supplier, when he found his wife with another man.

"We got into it. He ran out the front door and I ran out on the front porch."

Blinded by a rage he's never felt before or since, Quinn said, he grabbed a gun and fired two shots into the night.

The Rev. Lemuel Quinn III guides members of Southern Missionary Baptist Church in Bible study. 
The Rev. Lemuel Quinn III guides members of Southern Missionary Baptist Church in Bible study.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"It was not my intention to hit him. I was just shooting in the direction that he was running because I didn't want to see him back there anymore," he said.

The slender, soft-spoken pastor, wearing a dark blue suit with crisp white shirt and patterned tie, said he had no idea he hit anyone until about eight hours later, when Toledo Police Detective Ulysses Howard knocked on the door of his home.

One of the bullets had struck Harold Edward Kemp, 25, in the back of the neck, killing him, at a distance of 150 feet. Detective Howard informed Quinn that he was under arrest on a charge of first-degree murder.

"It was more than a shock," Quinn said.

The case was thrown out of court at first, but Quinn was indicted again and pleaded guilty in November, 1973, to a lesser charge of manslaughter - for a killing committed without malice. In an era before mandatory sentencing guidelines, Judge Robert Franklin of Lucas County Common Pleas Court sentenced him to 1 to 20 years in prison.

Quinn served his time at the Ohio State Reformatory at Mansfield, where he spent two years in Cell Block H.

"It was not a good place," he said.

He could touch both sides of the cell he shared with another inmate, and with 1,200 prisoners in the cell block the noise was deafening.

In the summer, inmates knocked out the windows to keep cool, and in the winter he'd have to sleep in his clothes to keep from freezing.

Quinn, now 62, said he's replayed the tragic events countless times.

"I can imagine that there was many an incident in history where if a gun was just not present, or a knife just not present, or a man or a woman hadn't been drunk behind a wheel, those life-changing experiences never would have happened for those individuals and for myself," he said.

"But when they do, you have to learn to live with it and deal with it. Pick yourself up and brush yourself off and get back in the race. That's what I've done - through the power of God."

Nearly 38 years have passed since the fateful morning, but for Quinn, it seems like a lifetime ago.

The Scott High School graduate grew up attending Third Baptist Church but said it wasn't until a dozen years ago, while attending True Vine Missionary Baptist Church after meeting Portia, his wife of 12 years, that he became a born-again Christian and could understand the Bible on a spiritual, not just a logical, basis.

He long had felt unworthy of God's love, forgiveness, and salvation, he said, until he said a prayer and "I got a feeling over me that I had never felt before - an almost indescribable feeling."

Only God could have transformed his heart and mind, Quinn said.

"When a man or woman gives his or her life to Christ, the Bible says, 'Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,'•" he said, quoting 2 Corinthians 5:17. "The old man, the old woman, is passed away. They have been born again."

A graduate of American Baptist College, Quinn had been on the staff at the prominent African-American church since 2002, serving under the Rev. Robert P. Wormely, a well-known and highly regarded Toledo minister who led Southern for 27 years before his death in March at 76.

Although Quinn is a "new creation" since being born again, his prison record was not washed away like his sins.

That manslaughter con-

viction sparked some heated debates when he was a candidate for senior pastor of Southern Missionary Baptist.

"It came up in a very ugly way," said Deacon James Hall, chairman of the church's deacon board. "I only found out about it after the process had started, and yes, it was very ugly. It was very ugly. But it didn't change anything."

He said Mr. Wormely had been aware of Quinn's record, yet entrusted his associate with many major responsibilities, including preaching some Sunday mornings, teaching Bible studies, and visiting the sick and dying.

As Mr. Wormely became increasingly ill, he told church leaders to "if at all possible, look from within" for a successor.

Although he never directly endorsed Quinn, church leaders said, his suggestion to "look from within" made it clear that he approved of the associate pastor's candidacy.

"If our pastor had recommended him, who are we to question his recommendations?" Mr. Hall asked.

Quinn was elected by more than three-quarters of the congregation's vote and installed as senior pastor on Aug. 8. He said some members who opposed him since have left the church, which averages 300 to 400 on a typical Sunday morning service.

Deborah Martindale, Quinn's ex-wife, who was at the scene of the 1972 shooting, lives in Nashville now and was adamantly opposed to Quinn being elected senior pastor.

"Lemuel Quinn wants to be acknowledged as a devout Christian leader. However, he has never atoned or had any remorse for his sins," she said.

She also faulted Quinn for never apologizing to Mr. Kemp's family - something Quinn acknowledged he has not done.

"I did apologize to my ex-wife, but prudence and common sense" made him balk at facing the victim's family, he said. "I'm sure that the way they felt about me, it wouldn't be safe for me to go knocking on their door."

Many Southern Missionary Baptist members, however, have given their new pastor their complete and enthusiastic support.

"We love him," said Frena Brown, 53, an 18-year member of the Indiana Avenue church who attends a Bible study Quinn leads at noon every Wednesday. "He's a humble and God-fearing man."

The shooting "happened before he was saved," Ms. Brown added. "We all have a past, and some of us try to hide it. None of us has been so perfect. And as Pastor Quinn often says, 'If God can save him, God can save anybody.'•"

Pauline Harris, 82, president of Southern's Mother's Board, called Quinn "a gifted teacher and preacher," and said his past should not be an obstacle to his future.

"When you are saved, God can't remember your sins," Ms. Harris said.

"There's not one person in this world that has been an angel. All of us have done something. You put it behind you. You move forward. I always say that you can't move forward looking backward."

Quinn, who frequently quotes the King James Bible from the pulpit or in conversation, said Scripture gives him hope and encouragement - particularly verses about Bible heroes whom God used mightily despite their flaws and failures.

"It just proves the power of God," he said.

"Moses committed premeditated murder with malice aforethought," Quinn said, referring to Exodus, Chapter 2. "The Bible says he looked to the left and to the right to see if anybody was looking when he murdered the Egyptian, and he went and buried the man. The next day, he found out that somebody had seen him."

King David, he added, committed two death-penalty offenses: adultery, a sin punishable by death according to the biblical book of Leviticus, and then sent the woman's husband to certain death in battle.

St. Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament Epistles, held the robes of the men who stoned Stephen to death, Quinn said. And he is convinced Apostle Peter was trying to lop off a man's head when he cut off the ear of the high priest's servant, part of the crowd with Judas when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss.

"If Moses and King David and the Apostle Paul were in the state of Ohio, they would be sitting on Death Row," he said. "But once you're born again, God changes your heart and your mind. He gives us new weapons to use: the word of God and prayer."

Quinn said he often tells his story to inmates at the Lucas County jail, where he serves as a chaplain.

It gets the attention of even the most skeptical prisoners, he said.

"I am always truthful with them and I let them know that I had been in prison and in jail myself," he said.

"Sometimes these guys don't really believe that God has the power to do what folk in the church claim he can do. So what they need is to see somebody that may have come from where they come from, or that did what they have done, to believe that God can do what he promised."

He gives God credit for turning his life around and tells the inmates that they can get a new start in life, too.

"Once God accepts us, it's not because we've always been so good. It's not because we've always been so kind. It's not because we've always did the right thing," Quinn said. "It's simply because of grace - God's unmerited favor."

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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