Three years and three lawyers after he was charged with murder, Christopher Anthony Lee is behind bars.
Lee, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder yesterday in a case that was repeatedly delayed during the Odenton man's quest to find suitable legal representation.
In the end, Lee settled on R. Kenneth Mundy, a renowned Washington attorney whose clients have included former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. But even Mundy's formidable skills -- and a closing argument performance that included a presentation of flowers to his adversary at theprosecution bench -- did not dissuade an Anne Arundel County CircuitCourt jury from convicting Lee in a 1988 drug-related murder.
Before Lee settled on Mundy, he had hired as the second in the string oflawyers another well-known criminal defense attorney, William H. Murphy Jr. of Baltimore. But before the case went to trial last November, a judge ordered Murphy to step down because he had previously represented a potential prosecution witness in the case, creating a conflict of interest for the attorney.
Lee was described as a part-time disc jockey and rap singer who worked full-time as a security guard. But prosecutor Eugene M. Whissel II said those job titles were merelya cover for Lee's real occupation, which was peddling drugs. Court records show Lee told police he was unemployed when he was arrested inSeptember 1990.
Lee had been free on $30,000 bond until his conviction yesterday. Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth revoked Lee's bond afterthe verdict was announced and ordered him to be jailed pending sentencing Nov. 19. The prosecutor said he would seek a life sentence.
A jury deliberated 90 minutes before finding Lee guilty in the Aug. 21, 1988, shooting death of Richard Oneil Grisby. Grisby, 26, of Severn, was found dead with two gunshot wounds to the back of his head on a wooded pathway connecting Lake Village and Meade Village. Testimonyin a previous trial showed the death was related to a dispute over stolen drugs.
In that trial, Olu Basil Carter, 19, of Severn, was convicted of second-degree murder. Carter was sentenced in August 1990to 30 years in prison.
After yesterday's verdict, Whissel said nodirect evidence determined which of the two men shot Grisby. "It's very possible they both shot him," he said.
To establish the cases against the two men, Whissel called witnesses who said the men left an apartment with Grisby and returned without the victim, but with a bullet in Carter's leg. Witnesses also testified that the two men purchased a .22 caliber handgun the day before the slaying.
In his closing argument yesterday, Mundy began by responding to what he called "flowery" compliments paid to him by Whissel during the prosecutor's closing argument. Mundy handed Whissel small, white chrysanthemums.
"They're not much, but where can you get flowers this time of year?" Mundy said.
He then accused the prosecutor of praising him in order to explain away the difficulties faced by prosecution witnesses under the defense lawyer's cross-examinations.
Mundy launched a 90-minute attack on the veracity of the prosecution witnesses, saying that one liar cannot corroborate another liar's story. "What we have isa house of sand built on another house of sand, and neither is supportive of the state's case," he said.
By the end of his sometimes-roaring speech, Mundy's voice was a rasp.
When it was his turn to speak in rebuttal, prosecutor Whissel produced the mums.
"I can't tell you how thankful I am for the flowers," he said. "Because if I deserve chrysanthemums, Mr. Mundy deserves long-stem roses for his Academy Award performance."
With a low-key, low-volume style that contrasted with Mundy's histrionics, the prosecutor reminded the jurors that witnesses should not be expected to remember minute details threeyears after a crime.
When the jury announced its verdict, Lee showed no emotion; his mother sat with arms folded, glaring.
Afterward, Lee's mother declined to comment, as did Grisby's mother. As sheriff's deputies led Lee in handcuffs to the courthouse holding cells, he denied killing Grisby.
"I don't believe this could be happening because I didn't believe they had enough evidence on me," Lee said. "Nobody saw me do anything."