Former trooper testifies that he never meant to kill stepson, 23 Fired weapon to scare Boone, Harding tells court

December 17, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Former Maryland State Trooper James M. Harding Jr. told jurors in his murder trial yesterday that he never meant to kill his 23-year-old stepson.

On March 21, Harding said, he fired his pistol-grip shotgun to scare Marine Cpl. Andre Boone after the two got into a fight.

"It was my intent to scare the hell out of him and keep him off me," Harding, 40, testified in Howard Circuit Court.

For the first time publicly, Harding gave a detailed account of the situation that he said forced him to shoot and kill the man he had raised since the age of 6. On the witness stand, he recounted the events of the day coolly and with precision.

But under cross-examination, Harding appeared confrontational and even hostile with prosecutors. He challenged statements prosecutors say he told police, including what time he told officers that he woke up that morning.

Harding is one of the last witnesses in the trial, with the case expected to go to the jury today.

Since last week, jurors have heard other testimony revolving around the central question: Was this shooting a case of self-defense or murder?

He testified that on March 21 he was sitting in a chair in the downstairs room of his Goodin Circle home in Kings Contrivance when he was suddenly hit on his head from behind. Cursing at Harding, the attacker screamed, "I am going to kill you," Harding said.

Harding said the two began fighting and he reached for the gun that was lying on the sofa. He had taken it out that day to change the handle on it. He saw his attacker's face and realized that it was his stepson. Boone then grabbed the shotgun and the two struggled, Harding testified.

The gun was eventually tossed on the floor and the two continued to fight in the hallway and the laundry room, Harding testified.

Harding said that Boone came out of the laundry room holding a gas can, screaming, "I am going to burn this [epithet] down around you."

Afraid for his life, Harding said, he dove for the gun and fired. The shotgun pellets, according to prosecution evidence, passed through a metal lamp shade before lodging in Boone's neck.

Through questioning, Assistant State's Attorney Eileen Mc-Inerney tried to paint Harding as a man who competed with his stepson and was jealous of Boone's success while his own life was falling apart.

McInerney tried to poke holes in Harding's testimony that he was suddenly struck from behind by suggesting that the chair in which Harding sat faces the entryways into the home, so Harding could have seen an intruder.

Confronted with the police interview with him, Harding denied almost everything the police noted.

He never told them he got up at 10: 30 that morning, he said. He does not remember when he got up. He did not eat sausage and eggs that day, as the police report states, because he distinctly remembers going out and getting a sandwich.

Prosecutors also tried yesterday to boost credibility in one of their main witnesses and their key to a first-degree murder case, Sean Mease.

On Monday, a former Howard County police officer contradicted Mease's statements that Harding had threatened him with a gun earlier on March 21. The defense suggested that the officer -- who later was asked to resign or be fired -- was a scapegoat for the case and was fired because his statements undermined Mease.

Yesterday, Maj. Wayne Livesay, commander of operations for the Howard County police, testified that prosecutors never told him it would strengthen their case if the officer left. Livesay said that he had launched a personnel investigation of Officer Adventino Dasilva and discovered that the report he filed was inaccurate.

"I simply met with [the state's attorney's office] to inform them of things I had learned that was going to impact the case," Livesay testified.

Pub Date: 12/17/97

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