Questions unanswered in shootings

Events led residents of Harper's Choice to address crime

Trial begins tomorrow

Defense says suspect has alibi, is victim of mistaken identity


August 22, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Almost one year after being rocked by back-to-back shootings, the Village of Harper's Choice in Columbia is still waiting for answers.

The trial of a suspect in one of the shootings ended in acquittal, and police have no other suspects in mind; the trial of a suspect in the other begins tomorrow, with the defense asserting that authorities again charged the wrong man.

While the shootings are clouded by mystery, they galvanized the community.

After some residents first denied they had a crime problem, local leaders worked with police to form a grass-roots organization. The Harper's Choice Community Partnership investigated perceptions about crime and other "quality of life" issues in and around the village center -- near where the shootings occurred in September.

That effort led county police to recommend two weeks ago that Harper's Choice be designated as the county's second Hot Spot, an area targeted by law enforcement and community officials for extra resources.

In addition to the two shootings a year ago, a third in January involving a pizza delivery driver also fueled interest in applying for Hot Spot designation. "All these things just add up," said Neil Frock, chairman of the Harper's Choice village board. "It's just an accumulation, I think."

Yet much remains unsettled. Who shot whom in September? Why? Were the shootings related?

The first shooting involved Raymond T. Lawson, now 18, who was walking on a footpath near the village center after midnight Sept. 20, police say, when he was approached by two men.

One of the men took out a silver handgun and ordered Lawson to the ground. Lawson complied, and the gunman began kicking him in the head.

The men then rummaged through Lawson's pockets and took about $100, police said.

The men had begun walking away, and Lawson had begun to push himself up from the ground, police said, when the gunman fired. Lawson was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, treated for a stomach wound and released a week later.

Detectives eventually arrested a suspect nicknamed "Reese," who was later identified as Maurice Green, 21, of the 400 block of Poplar Grove St., police said. Lawson identified Green from a photo lineup while he was recovering at Shock Trauma, police said.

A day after the first shooting, about 1: 50 a.m. Sept. 21, John Gordon Jackson, 38, of Harper's Choice was shot in the chest and arm. Robert Joseph Manning, 18, of Columbia, was charged with several felonies, including attempted first-degree murder.

Though authorities said the shootings were not related, testimony during Manning's trial shows they may have been.

Manning testified that he bought drugs from Green and that another man shot Jackson because that man believed Jackson had shot Lawson.

Manning was acquitted. Green's attorney says his client should be acquitted, too. Green is charged with attempted murder, second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and other charges.

Lawson's credibility as a witness could be challenged. He didn't show up in May when Green's trial was scheduled to begin. He was arrested several days later and taken into custody. He had violated his juvenile probation, his mother has said, and has been at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County since being arrested.

Other witnesses include two girls who said that Lawson approached them that night on the path and asked for a cigarette.

One of the girls, Chrystal Brown, 17, said in an interview that she doesn't want to testify because she fears retaliation.

The other witness, Rosetta Rose, 17, also said she wouldn't appear at the trial. She said she had her head turned during the shooting and didn't see the attack.

Green's attorney, James V. Cunningham, said the girls' testimony would benefit his client. Cunningham said the girls described the shooter fleeing in a station wagon. Police said Green has a cream-colored Nissan Maxima.

Cunningham also said that Green will testify at the trial and has an iron-clad alibi: He was at home with his girlfriend and another couple that night.

"He was not involved," Cunningham said. "The victim is mistaken."

Sun staff writer Erika Niedowski contributed to this article.

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