Trial of former trooper begins Harding is charged with slaying stepson

December 10, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The way Howard prosecutors see it, former Maryland Trooper James M. Harding was looking for a fight last March 21. The way Harding sees it, his stepson, Marine Cpl. Andre Boone, was the one looking for trouble.

What no one disagrees about is that when the men's paths crossed that day, Boone ended up dead, and Harding was charged with homicide.

Yesterday, Harding's trial got under way in Howard Circuit Court. Prosecutors called the former state trooper a murderer, while Harding maintained he killed Boone, 23, in self-defense during a struggle at Harding's Columbia home.

The only murder case in Howard County this year is a tangled, emotional drama with only one witness -- Harding.

Howard prosecutors argued yesterday that Harding, 40, had murder on his mind March 21. He had threatened a friend of Boone's with a shotgun, questioning him with his finger on the trigger, earlier in the day, they said.

They painted Harding as a volatile man deeply upset about the decline of his state police career after he was seriously injured in an on-the-job accident. They said Harding lied to police when questioned about the shooting of Boone.

Boone, a 1992 graduate of Hammond High School in Columbia, was a stage crewman for the U.S. Marine Band, the president's official band, which performs at White House functions and sometimes travels with the president.

Assistant State's Attorney Eileen McInerney said the evidence will show that Boone was shot from a distance, not close-up -- as if in a struggle -- as Harding told police.

Andre Boone "was not killed at the hands of a stranger. He was killed by a known assailant, a loved one, a relative, his stepfather," McInerney said.

Anthony Covington, Harding's attorney, told the jury that Boone came to Harding's home that day looking to hurt his stepfather. He said Boone called friends from his Alexandria, Va., home telling them that he was going to "mess up" Harding.

"This case, quite frankly, when you don't look at all the smoke, is quite simple," Covington said. "It was Andre Boone who went to that house to mess up his step-father and lost his life. Is James Harding guilty of anything? Absolutely not."

Covington appeared to set up his defense for any conflicting statements that Harding may have given to police.

The injury Harding suffered -- he was struck by a motorist while helping a driver on the Capital Beltway -- also affected his ability to recall details, especially under stress, Covington told the jury.

Yesterday, the prosecution's first witness, Sean Mease, testified that earlier on March 21, Harding threatened him with a pistol-grip shotgun. Mease testified that he had called the house looking for Boone, a longtime friend, and Harding told him to come over.

After Mease arrived, he said, Harding summoned him downstairs and pulled a shotgun out from behind his leg. Harding asked him whether he had given L'Net -- Harding's wife and Boone's mother -- any money. Mease denied doing so, he testified.

"He said he was willing to go to jail for the rest of his life if that's what needed to be done," Mease testified. "He said, 'I hate you more than the people who did this to me,' " referring to the injuries he received as a trooper.

Mease, who testified that Harding had said he didn't like him because of Mease's drug history -- said he called police to report that Harding had threatened his life. Police did not go to Harding's home, police have said.

Mease said he also called Boone in Alexandria at his Marine barracks, to tell him what happened. "He couldn't believe what had taken place," Mease testified, "and he told me he was going to call over to Mr. Harding's house and ask him why he did what he did."

Mease talked to Boone once more before he died. Boone called him to tell him Harding had hung up on him when he asked about the incident with Mease, Mease testified.

Covington disputed Mease's claim that Harding had threatened him. He suggested that Mease told police that Harding never touched the gun during their conversation.

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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