Circuit Court jury acquits Baltimore man in robbery, shooting of New York dancer

Jurors find contradictions in case against defendant

October 13, 1999|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury acquitted a man yesterday who had been accused of participating in the robbery and shooting last year of a ballet dancer.

Defendant John C. Rogers faced life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges, conspiracy to commit murder and armed robbery. After spending 314 days in the Baltimore jail, he was awaiting release last night.

Rogers was charged in the robbery Nov. 27 that left New York ballet dancer James Bransford Pace paralyzed from the chest down.

Pace, 29, was in Baltimore to perform in "Jolson: The Musical." He was walking back to his hotel after a night performance when he was shot near Saratoga and St. Paul streets.

A few days later, Pace chose Rogers, 31, of Pitcher Street, from a police photo array, saying he was the man who robbed him.

Conflicting testimony

On Thursday, however, a day after Pace twice pointed to Rogers and testified that he was the man who robbed him, prosecution witness Derek Duane Isetti testified that Pace said he was unsure whether Rogers was involved in the crime. The conversation took place over lunch in a downtown cafe the day before the trial started, Isetti said.

Isetti testified that after Pace told him he wasn't sure of Rogers' identification, he asked whether Pace would recognize him if he walked in front of him. Isetti told jurors that Pace again replied he wasn't sure.

"I don't feel Isetti's testimony alone rendered the not guilty verdict," jury forewoman Sally Yancheski said yesterday. "There were a lot of points, things that were contradictory."

Yancheski, 23, an August graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, said jurors didn't think Pace could accurately pick out his assailant from his hospital bed.

She said prosecutors didn't prove Rogers was at the scene at the time of the shooting.

Jury deliberations

Jurors deliberated Thursday and Friday, when they twice sent out a note to Circuit Judge Alfred Nance saying they could not reach a unanimous decision.

Yancheski said that about 45 minutes after deliberations began last week, 11 jurors wanted to vote not guilty. The lone dissenting juror changed his mind during the weekend, she said.

Efforts to reach Rogers and Assistant State's Attorney Sylvester Cox were unsuccessful.

"I think that the greatest chance of injustice occurs in these types of cases when misidentifications are made, no matter how honest they may be," said Assistant Public Defender Jeffrey Gilleran, who represented Rogers.

Sandra Rogers, the defendant's mother, said her heart goes out to Pace and his family, "but I'm just thanking God that my son has been vindicated."

Pace, reached yesterday at his home in Atlanta, said he wasn't surprised at the verdict.

`That was him'

"I have no motive to falsely accuse anybody," Pace said. "I knew when I saw him in the courtroom that that was him."

He added: "I'm moving on with whatever my life is going to be. I'm not wasting any more of my time on Baltimore."

Pub Date: 10/13/99

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