A Washington man described by prosecutors as the mastermind of the carjacking in which Pam Basu was dragged to her death could face the death penalty after his conviction yesterday of first-degree murder.
The Baltimore County jury that convicted Rodney Eugene Solomon, 27, will convene Tuesday in Towson to decide if he should be sentenced to die in the gas chamber or to life in prison.
The Circuit Court panel of nine women and three men deliberated about four hours before finding Solomon guilty of premeditated murder and felony murder -- two types of first-degree murder -- for the Sept. 8 slaying of the 33-year-old Howard County research scientist.
"On behalf of the Basu family, they would like to say, first of all, they are extremely pleased with the verdict and thanks to everyone for their support throughout the trial," Howard County Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad said.
Mr. Rexroad declined to discuss the verdict, opting to wait until next week's proceedings. Defense attorneys and the Basu family left the courthouse without commenting on the case.
As the jury foreman read the verdict, Dr. Basu's relatives wept and hugged each other. Dr. Basu's husband, Biswanath "Steve" Basu, had gone home after closing arguments because he was ill.
Solomon sat motionless as the verdict was announced. His voice shook as he said he wanted the jury, rather than a judge, to sentence him.
Solomon also was convicted of robbery and of kidnapping Dr. Basu and her 22-month-old daughter, who was sitting in a child safety seat when the carjacking began. The child was unharmed.
In addition, Solomon was found guilty of robbery and assault with intent to rob for two attempted carjackings that defense attorneys acknowledged that he committed.
The Basu case, which brought national attention to carjackings, occurred near Dr. Basu's home in Savage. Solomon's trial was moved from Howard County to Baltimore County.
Twenty states are considering carjacking laws, and at least three -- Massachusetts, Michigan and Virginia -- and the District of Columbia have laws aimed at the crime. In addition, several cities, including New York and Detroit, have formed task forces to combat carjackings.
One of the main issues the jury had to decide was whether Solomon or Bernard Eric Miller, 17, of Washington was driving the car that dragged Dr. Basu nearly two miles to her death.
Mr. Rexroad described Solomon and Miller as the "master and apprentice" during the Basu carjacking.
He contended that Solomon intended to kill Dr. Basu, noting that he never stopped to free her after her arm became entangled in a seat belt during the struggle for the car.
"He could have stopped at five feet or at three seconds," Mr. Rexroad said. "But he didn't stop. . . . He kept going, going and going."
But Assistant Public Defender Samuel Truette contended that Miller was the driver. Miller is serving a life sentence, after his Howard Circuit Court trial in April.
Mr. Truette argued for a conviction of second-degree murder, a charge that carries a maximum 30-year prison sentence, because he said Solomon and Miller never intended to kill Dr. Basu, only to steal her 1990 BMW.
"This case is a tragedy," he said. "There was no intent to murder."
Mr. Rexroad used much of his closing argument to diffuse statements Miller gave to police after his arrest in which he said he had driven the Basu car. Three statements were introduced )) as evidence by defense attorneys after Miller refused to testify.
The Howard County prosecutor asked the jury to dismiss the statements, noting that Miller repeatedly contradicted himself. He added that few of Miller's statements are supported by evidence and testimony.
He asserted that Solomon got Miller to call investigators for another interview to change his story while the pair were being held at the Howard County Detention Center
"Rodney Solomon -- the master, the teacher, the leader -- has influenced Bernard Miller," he said. "[Miller] is lying because Rodney Solomon is telling him what to say."
But Mr. Truette said in his closing argument that Miller's statements contain "internal consistencies" that make them believeable.
The statements are supported by tests that found Dr. Basu's blood on Miller's clothing but none on Solomon's, he said. He contended that the blood splashed onto Miller while the youth was driving with Dr. Basu's body draging alongside the car.
Mr. Truette challenged testimony from three prosecution witnesses who saw the carjacking. He said two of them at first told police that they saw only the backs of the heads of the assailants but had fuller descriptions when they testified.
Mr. Truette asked the jurors to dismiss the testimony of the third witness, who had been convicted for giving false statements to police.