Opening statements under way in Essex carpenter's murder trial Defense attorney claims key witness is killer

September 15, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Melody Simmons contributed to this article.

In a case that could bring the death penalty, a Baltimore County prosecutor told a jury yesterday that an Essex carpenter tried to frame two men for murder after trading the victim's car to the men for drugs in August 1997.

The car, a 1990 Buick station wagon, was used to run over William A. Ehinger Jr., said Assistant State's Attorney Steven I. Kroll in his opening statement to a jury.

John R. Simpson, 28, is charged with first-degree murder, carjacking and car theft. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Simpson's attorney, Ronald S. Kowitz, told the jury yesterday that his client is innocent and that one of the witnesses against Simpson is the killer.

Kroll gave his opening presentation to the jury in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Lawrence R. Daniels using a computerized slide show that provided jurors with photosgraphs of the scene of the killing, a map and witnesses' names.

When the names "Michael Jackson and Antoine Fritz" appeared on the screen, Kroll said Simpson, using racially offensive language, told police that the two black men to whom he gave the victim's car were responsible for the killing.

Kroll also noted numerous inconsistent statements that he said Simpson gave police about what happened the Aug. 10 morning that Ehinger was slain.

Kroll said the killing occurred after Ehinger, 58, and Simpson argued because Simpson was drinking a beer in Ehinger's car. The prosecutor also said Ehinger objected to Simpson's interest in trading Ehinger's car for drugs.

The prosecutor said Simpson beat Ehinger's head on a gravel parking lot in the 1800 block of Eastern Blvd. Simpson then got into the driver's seat and -- driving at a low speed -- ran over Ehinger and dragged his body more than 170 feet, Kroll said.

The prosecution's key witness will be 24-year-old Shawn T. Long, who witnessed the killing from the car's back seat. Long pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and agreed to serve eight years in prison in exchange for his testimony against Simpson.

Simpson's attorney told the jury in his opening statement that Long is the killer.

"Shawn Long is not a witness, he is a perpetrator," said Kowitz.

The day of the killing, Long was "covered with dirt and covered with gravel. Mr. Simpson was not," Kowitz said, referring to the beating of Ehinger on a gravel parking lot.

"You will find Shawn Long is a liar. Shawn Long has gotten away with murder," said Kowitz.

In testimony later in the day, 10-year Baltimore County police veteran Stephen Comegna described finding Ehinger's body.

Sgt. Robert Czawlytko, a traffic expert from the Essex precinct, detailed acceleration marks in the gravel that indicated Ehinger was hit at a low speed, tumbled to the gravel and was run over and dragged by the station wagon.

"The victim was struck by the car, which continued to drive over the victim, dragging him 175 feet until he became disengaged from the vehicle," Czawlytko said.

Pub Date: 9/15/98

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