A Howard County prosecutor seeking a conviction of a Laurel man accused of murdering a well-known race track vendor in 1987 told a jury in opening arguments yesterday that "incredible evidence" would be presented that would leave no doubt the defendant is guilty.
But the defendant's lawyer in his brief opening statement cautioned the jury to be mindful that six years have passed since the crime. Witnesses may no longer have accurate recollections of what transpired back then, he contended.
"I think this is an area full of danger," said Harry Trainor Jr., the Landover-based attorney for Nuri Tuncer Icgoren, 41, of Laurel.
Mr. Icgoren, a former exercise rider at the Bowie and Laurel race courses, is charged with the first-degree murder and robbery of Raymond Jerman Sr., 85, a popular snack vendor at the Laurel and Freestate horse-racing tracks.
The trial before Howard Circuit Judge Raymond Kane Jr. is expected to take between 10 days and two weeks, the judge told the seven men and five women chosen for the jury yesterday as the trial opened.
The trial marks the third time Mr. Icgoren will be tried for the crime. Prosecutors have issued subpoenas for 43 witnesses for this trial, court documents show.
The state Court of Special Appeals overturned the first verdict and ordered a second trial. A mistrial was declared in the second trial in November 1992 when the jury deadlocked.
"The defendant's case I suspect will be that this is all a horrible mistake. That is a myth," Kate O'Donnell, the senior assistant TC state's attorney trying the case, told the jury yesterday in her 30-minute opening statement.
"This is a case where the defendant takes a blade, a knife, and six times stabs someone, once deep enough to get that old man's heart," she told the jury. "He did not die without a fight."
During her opening statement, Ms. O'Donnell portrayed Mr. Jerman as a well-known figure among employees of the Laurel and Freestate race tracks. He had served the racing community his entire working life, she said.
During his later years, Mr. Jerman operated a snack food service out of an old blue Datsun truck. He made the rounds of the two tracks daily. He also operated a check cashing service out of the truck for track employees.
"He was a man who worked every day but Sunday, and he kept a very regular routine," Ms. O'Donnell told the jury. She said the vendor carried up to $30,000 in cash daily in his shirt pockets or hidden in his truck for his check cashing service, which was well known among track employees.
"This made him a very vulnerable old man," she said.
Ms. O'Donnell said a track employee would testify that he observed Mr. Jerman leaving the Laurel track in his blue pickup about 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, 1987, to head north on U.S. 1 for the Freestate Race Course in North Laurel. The witness also would testify that Mr. Icgoren left the track about the same time, speeding after the vendor in a gold 1977 Ford Ranchero, the prosector told the jury.
She said witnesses also would be called to testify that they saw a gold Ranchero and a blue Datsun pickup pull off to the side of Route 1 near the Freestate raceway that day around 12:30 p.m. Other witnesses will testify they saw a man fitting Mr. Icgoren's description leaning on the driver's side window talking with the driver.
Two women on a trip to the bank during their lunch break will testify they saw a man leaning inside the Datsun window "fighting, pushing or attacking," Ms. O'Donnell told the jury. On their way back to work from the bank, the women will testify they saw the Datsun driver slumped over the steering wheel and they quickly alerted police.
Mr. Icgoren became an immediate suspect in the case, Ms. O'Donnell said.
Mr. Trainor, the defense attorney, urged the jury to "be extremely cautious" in the way they analyzed witness statements and evidence in the case.
He urged jurors to consider statements of witnesses to police shortly after the crime as "the most reliable, trustworthy evidence" in the case.
"We'll be asking witnesses to recall events from long ago," Mr. Trainor told the jury. "Witnesses may embellish -- not deliberately -- what they remember of the events of Sept. 29, 1987."
As for what Mr. Icgoren recalls of that day, he testified at his last trial that he had been driving along Route 1 on the way to Pimlico Race Track when he saw Mr. Jerman's pickup along the highway.
Mr. Icgoren testified that he checked on Mr. Jerman and thought Mr. Jerman had suffered a heart attack when he called his name but got no response.
He testified that he did not see any blood on Mr. Jerman's clothing or notice any money in the vendor's pockets or truck.
The defendant said he drove away, but stopped at a Jessup service station and considered calling the police, but decided against it because he feared being questioned by police.