Hot dog vendors tell of being shot in robbery bid 17-year-old is first of 4 defendants

February 23, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

It was lunchtime but business was slow at the sidewalk hot dog stand near the University of Maryland's downtown medical complex. Mindy Murdza served the sodas and the dogs while John Trikilis handled the orders for pita sandwiches.

Ms. Murdza tried to get Mr. Trikilis' attention when she saw the gun.

Testifying for the first time about July's robbery and shooting that left the two hot dog vendors critically wounded, Ms. Murdza told a Baltimore Circuit Court jury yesterday that the gunman's "accomplice" ran behind her and ripped off her apron, in which she had been placing the day's proceeds. Mr. Trikilis saw the man going for the cash and pushed him to the ground, she said.

"All of a sudden I heard some loud noises," Ms. Murdza told the jury. Mr. Trikilis had been shot. She would be next.

"As I turned, I felt a hit. I didn't really feel the first one, or it felt like a BB or something. It didn't really hurt," the 22-year-old college student testified. "But the second one I knew hit my spine because I couldn't feel my leg."

When it was his turn to testify, Mr. Trikilis, 28, said he saw someone trying to rob his friend.

"When I grabbed him and pushed him to the ground I heard him say, 'Shoot him, shoot him,' " Mr. Trikilis said. A shot grazed his left shoulder.

"That's when I turned around and saw the gunman. The next shot went right through my chest, hit my clavicle and went through my lung and liver and it's still in my back," Mr. Trikilis told the jury. "I started gasping for air. It was like I was drowning. . . . The whole right side of my body was like it was on fire."

The two vendors testified during the trial of Jacoby "Be-Bop" Bennett, charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and using a handgun in a violent crime. According to testimony, Mr. Bennett, who turned 17 Saturday but is being tried as an adult, was not the gunman but was the person who ripped the apron from the vendor.

He took the stand yesterday and said he had no idea his cohort, Anthony W. Smith, was going to shoot anybody. He said 24-year-old Robert D. Bernard, who had been acting as a lookout, was the person who ran up and shouted, "Bust him," after Mr. Trikilis knocked him down.

Mr. Smith, who turned 18 in September but also faces adult charges; Mr. Bernard and Tiffany R. Bennett, Mr. Bennett's 22-year-old sister, are to receive separate trials in the July 17, 1992, shooting.

The jury in Mr. Bennett's trial is to hear closing arguments today and then begin its deliberations.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Bennett also are charged with murder in the July 14, 1992, slaying of a 41-year-old middle school teacher shot in the head and chest in his car.

During her opening statement yesterday in Mr. Bennett's trial, prosecutor Laura Mullally told the jurors they might be wondering how someone so young could be charged with such a serious crime.

"He may have the face of an angel but he has the heart of a murderous thief," the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Michael D. Montemarano sought to portray Mr. Bennett as a hungry, homeless youth who was along for the robbery but should not be held responsible for the shootings. "My client has no family. He has no support system," Mr. Montemarano said.

Mr. Bennett, wearing a white and gray sweat suit, testified his sister and Mr. Bernard planned the robbery, adding: "I feel bad about the shooting. It shouldn't have happened. I don't think we should have been robbing her, period."

Mr. Trikilis said the shooting left him with both physical and psychological wounds. "I cannot take deep breaths without feeling pain. I can't exert myself like I used to," the Timonium man said. Worse, he found it difficult to return to his family's hot dog vending business. He went back last month after his father suffered an illness.

Ms. Murdza, a former varsity soccer player at Mount Hebron High School who also played on Mr. Trikilis' rugby team at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, can now walk with the aid of two canes. Still, she needed a wheelchair to cover the distance from a waiting room to the courtroom yesterday.

After testifying, Ms. Murdza recalled the months spent in the hospital and in physical therapy.

She showed how she can move her left foot a little bit and said doctors don't know how much movement she may regain in her left leg. Ms. Murdza said she only knows that a midday shooting in a busy downtown area should be enough to prompt a look into the causes of urban violence.

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