"The shooting started before we even got acquainted," said Ricardo Burks, wrapping up his first day on the witness stand.
Accused of murdering two men, one teen-ager, and his brother-in-law during a cocaine binge, the 31-year-old defendant took the stand yesterday, punctuating his testimony before a Baltimore Circuit Court jury with deep sighs and long pauses.
The three young men, reputed drug dealers, were shot to death April 18 in the home of Burks' brother-in-law, Marvin Willis 3rd, in southwest Baltimore.
Several times yesterday, Judge Ellen L. Hollander asked Burks, his high-pitched voice barely audible, to speak up. The defendant stuck to the story he gave detectives last spring: Willis killed the three young men when one of them produced a handgun and Burks killed Willis in self-defense.
The defendant was to be cross-examined today.
On the stand yesterday, Burks said the three young men came to the home after he and his brother-in-law, armed with a 9mm pistol, had been burned in a cocaine buy. He remembered hearing that one of the young men pulled a gun.
"The shooting started before we even got acquainted," he testified after telling the jury that Willis shot the three other young men as he ducked for cover.
"Somebody screamed, 'He's got a gun,' " he said. "I turned around . . . Everything just happened so fast. Everything just started to explode . . . I couldn't move 'cause I was scared. This whole thing lasted, it seemed, like seconds."
After wrapping the bodies in carpeting and disposing of them, the two men continued to smoke cocaine. Burks testified that he was afraid to try to get away. "I didn't know what to do."
But his testimony seemed to contradict a key piece of evidence in the state's circumstantial case against him. Last Thursday, Ann M. Dixon, deputy chief medical examiner, testified that one of the men and the teen-ager had injected "massive" doses of heroin shortly before the shootings.
Charles Jefferson Jr., 18, had so much heroin in his system that he would have lost consciousness seconds after taking the drug, Dixon testified. The overdose would have killed him in minutes, but two gunshots to the head took his life first.
Burks led police to the bodies of the three Baltimore young men -- Derrick L. Newman, 19, Joseph Austin, 15, and Jefferson -- dumped in a trash-strewn lot in Odenton. Austin, who had also injected a potentially lethal dose of heroin, was shot eight times. Newman was shot once in the head and stabbed 46 times.
On the stand yesterday, Burks said no one used heroin when the teens came to the home in the 400 block of Yale Ave. April 18. He made no mention of heroin in a statement he gave to city detectives last spring.
Burks testified that Willis pushed him, the two struggled and that he took the gun away from Willis. He said he fired at Willis in the basement and then "fired . . . more shots into the dark" after Willis retreated upstairs. Willis was hit five times.
The defendant said he ran out of the house. He considered surrendering at city police headquarters but changed his mind, he said.