Last words of victim seen key in retrial Witnesses testify woman said brother of boyfriend shot her

August 27, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Late on Christmas Eve almost two years ago, a Woodlawn teen-ager woke up to the sound of gunshots outside her apartment and found Laquitta Howard, 23, lying in the stairwell, in pain, bleeding and about to die.

From a witness stand in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday, Jacinta Stith, 18, recalled Howard's words: "Sweetheart, can you please come hold my hand? Please don't let me die. I have a 6-year-old son. I can't die."

Then, according to the testimony, Howard said she had been shot by her boyfriend's brother -- dying words spoken to a then-16-year-old girl, and moments later to a police officer, that county prosecutors are hoping will bring about the conviction of the brother, Joe Louis McDowell, 35.

Assistant State's Attorney Jason G. League said in his opening statement that evidence implicating McDowell is clear: "Laquitta Howard tells us who killed her."

But McDowell's lawyer, Jack Rubin, said that without a gun or evidence linking McDowell to the scene, Stith's statement "cannot, should not and will not be enough to find him guilty of anything."

Recovered from the complex were bullets, belt buckles and a black knit cap. But missing are the gun and a witness who saw the shooter fleeing from the apartment complex in the first block of Kafern Drive.

The case ended in a mistrial last year when half of the jury voted for acquittal and the other half to convict McDowell, who has been behind bars since his arrest two days after the shooting.

It was a wet, misty night Dec. 24, 1994, when someone fired five shots from a .44-caliber revolver at Howard in the parking lot and stairwell of the apartment building. Howard was hit in the upper body, then began moaning.

Officer Patrick McGlynn testified that when he arrived moments later, he told Howard she was about to die and urged her to give the name of the gunman. She identified him as McDowell.

McGlynn said she acknowledged she was at the Woodlawn apartment complex buying drugs, and said she was shot because McDowell thought she had gotten her boyfriend -- McDowell's brother, Phillip, 30 -- killed.

Phillip McDowell, with whom Howard had been living in the 600 block of N. Carrollton Ave., was shot two days earlier during a robbery less than a block from their home -- but contrary to Howard's dying words, he did not die.

Phillip McDowell, who collapsed in Howard's arms after the shooting, was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and survived -- which Rubin said pokes a hole in the state's case.

"Just as she was wrong about the alleged motive, she was wrong about who shot her," Rubin said.

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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