Murder trial jury travels to watch firing range test

November 18, 1994|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore County Circuit judge and jury huddled in the sprinkling rain yesterday at the county police firing range watching a ballistics expert pull the trigger of a semi-automatic pistol that pumped 11 bullets into a man last April allegedly on one trigger pull.

Each time, a single bullet cracked into the air followed by a long silence.

Ventura McLee hoped to hear the sound of more bullets spewing out of the pistol.

It would have supported his testimony that when he shot Rohan Lawson Harvey, he had pulled the trigger only once and the bullets came out as they would from a machine gun.

Mr. McLee, 20, of West Baltimore had testified he pulled the trigger of the semi-automatic SWD/Cobray M-11 9mm pistol outside a Woodlawn apartment in a moment of fright and passion.

Prosecutors contend he planned to shoot Mr. Harvey because he was angry and took the time -- 20 seconds, according the ballistics expert -- to pull the trigger at least 14 times.

In a rare move, Judge John O. Hennegan took the jurors in a van to the Dulaney Valley Road range to see the expert fire the pistol rather than solely relying on his courtroom testimony.

Mr. McLee stoically watched the test-firing.

For the jury, the distinction may be the difference between a first-degree sentence, which the prosecution is seeking, or a voluntary manslaughter sentence, which is what Mr. McLee wants at the most.

For first-degree murder, premeditation must be proven.

To get voluntary manslaughter, a death happens in the absence of malice.

A first-degree sentence carries a maximum penalty of life and voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum of 10 years, said prosecutor Isaiah Dixon III.

Closing arguments were planned for today.

The shooting happened around 10 p.m. April 9, when Mr. McLee drove his girlfriend Tiara M. Bowman to Mr. Harvey's apartment in the 2000 block of Richglen Drive.

Ms. Bowman, who had lived with Mr. Harvey, wanted some things she had left in the apartment.

The two men argued and, according to conflicting testimony, one pulled a gun, quickly followed by the other.

Mr. McLee's gun was authentic; Mr. Harvey's was a toy.

Ms. Bowman, between the men when the guns were drawn, was grabbed by the neck by Mr. Harvey and dragged to Mr. McLee's Acura Legend, according to her testimony.

Witnesses testified that Mr. McLee ran after the car and shot Mr. Harvey several times while he was in the driver's seat. The woman received a minor injury when she fell to the pavement.

Mr. McLee testified that Mr. Harvey tried to run him down with the car and he shot indiscriminately to save his life. Mr. Harvey, 26, died

immediately from 11 gunshot wounds. Three other shell casings were found at the car.

"I was scared," Mr. McLee testified. "I heard he was so dangerous . . . . He tried to run me over and I fired into the car . . . . I pulled the trigger one time."

After the demonstration at the firing range, testimony was resumed in the courtroom. Roland Walker, Mr. McLee's attorney, asked ballistics expert Joseph Kopera whether the gun could have malfunctioned on April 9.

"The probability of it malfunctioning is there," Mr. Kopera said. "But if it did, it would still be malfunctioning."

"If it did malfunction, what would happen?" Mr. Walker asked.

The semi-automatic pistol "would be fully automatic," Mr. Kopera said.

In an effort to show how the gun's mechanism could malfunction, Mr. Kopera took the gun apart on the stand.

He had trouble putting it back together and the chamber would not slide.

"See, he couldn't even get it to work," Mr. McLee mouthed to family members in the row behind him as he was being led back to his cell for the night.

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