Former trooper to take the stand Defendant in slaying of his Marine stepson set to testify today

December 16, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

After four days of testimony about the shooting death of Marine Cpl. Andre Boone, jurors are expected to hear today from the only witness to the slaying -- Boone's stepfather, the man charged with his murder.

Former Maryland State Trooper James M. Harding will take the stand in his own defense, if he does not change his mind overnight, defense attorney Anthony Covington said yesterday.

Harding admits shooting Boone -- the only homicide in Howard County this year -- but his testimony could be critical as jurors grapple with the central question in the trial: Did Harding fire the fatal blast into Boone's neck in an act of self-defense or murder?

The prosecutors' attempt to prove that Harding had murder on his mind when Boone came to his residence March 21 appeared to suffer a blow yesterday when a former Howard County police officer contradicted the statements of one of the prosecution's principal witnesses.

Sean Mease -- the prosecution's first witness and their key to proving first-degree murder charges -- told jurors that Harding threatened him with a pump-action shotgun earlier in the day that Boone was shot.

But yesterday, Officer Adventino Dasilva -- who was sent to Mease's house after Mease dialed 911 -- testified that Mease told him five times that Harding had never touched the gun or threatened him.

That means the state's witness is contradicted by the state's own agent -- Dasilva. Dasilva said he was told to resign or be fired because it was determined that he was "dishonest" in his report about Mease. Criticism fell on the Howard County Police Department when it was disclosed that police failed to go to Harding's house that day despite Mease's complaint.

Dasilva now works as a police officer in Chevy Chase.

Covington asked Dasilva whether he felt he was fired because his March 21 report "was on the wrong side of the evidence in this case."

"You didn't lie in this report, did you?" Covington asked Dasilva.

"No," he responded.

The defense also presented evidence yesterday designed to buttress its argument that it was Boone, 23, who was looking for trouble when he came to his stepfather's house that day.

Boone's friend and former Marine supervisor, Cpl. Darelle Joiner, testified that Boone called him March 21, sounding concerned and almost crying as he called off a planned exercise session.

Boone said, " 'I have to go home and beat my Pops up,' " Joiner testified, referring to Harding.

Some of the most emotional testimony in the case came last week from L'Net Harding, Harding's estranged wife and the mother of the victim.

Glaring at James Harding from the witness stand, Mrs. Harding testified for the prosecution that Boone had called her after receiving a phone call from Mease, who told Boone that his stepfather had pulled a gun on him.

"He said, 'Ma, what's wrong with James [Harding]?' I said, 'I don't know,' " Mrs. Harding testified.

Breaking down in sobs, Mrs. Harding, who had earlier taken out a protective order against her husband for assault, told the jurors that she pleaded with Boone not to go to his stepfather's house.

"I said, 'Andre, don't go. Don't go,' " she testified. "He said, 'I'm going over there.' "

Prosecutors, who say that pictures of Boone were found in Harding's garbage can after the killing, are presenting evidence that Boone was shot from a distance -- not at close range as Harding initially told the authorities.

Last week, a firearms expert and medical examiner testified that Boone was shot from at least eight or 10 feet away.

Joseph Kopera, a firearms expert from the Maryland State Police Crime Lab, walked around the courtroom, pumping the weapon used in the killing -- a menacing-looking shotgun -- in front of the jurors. He testified that the pellets went through a metal lamp shade before hitting Boone. He said tests determined that the shot was at least eight or 10 feet from the lamp.

Police reports say that Harding, who suffered minor injuries in what prosecutors agree was a struggle with Boone, initially told them that he shot his stepson at close range during the struggle.

Yesterday, a clinical psychologist testified for the defense that Harding suffers from short-term memory loss because of head injuries he sustained just after becoming a state trooper four years ago.

Harding was setting up flares around a disabled car stopped in the fast lane of the Capital Beltway when he was hit by a car. Pinned under the vehicle, he was dragged 68 feet along the pavement.

Given the hypothetical situation of Harding's arrest, Dr. John A. Cooper testified that under pressure -- such as being questioned by the police -- it is likely that Harding would give inaccurate accounts of recent events.

Answers would "not be with any degree of certainty or specificity," he said.

Cooper conceded under cross-examination that memory loss can also be faked.

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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