Va. man found guilty of murder

23-year-old convicted of killing Columbian during drug robbery

March 10, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A 23-year-old Virginia man was convicted of murder in Howard County Circuit Court last night in the shooting death of a Columbia man more than a year ago.

Jurors deliberated about seven hours before finding Randall Bagley guilty in the Dec. 10, 1998, shooting death of Donald R. Mitchell, 43, during a drug robbery in a North Laurel apartment.

The case dealt with a side of crime that Howard County residents rarely see. The main prosecution witness was an admitted cocaine dealer and the defendant admitted in police interrogations that he planned to rob the dealer of drugs and money.

In closing arguments yesterday, prosecutors urged jurors to convict Bagley of murder, saying he entered the apartment on Sylvan Still Road, pulled a gun and shot Mitchell, who was sitting on a couch near the front door. Mitchell had gone to the apartment to visit his friend, Donovan Bowen.

"[Bagley] walked up to Donald Mitchell, sitting defenseless on a couch, pulled out [a gun] and pointed it at him," said prosecutor Michael Rexroad. "There was nothing [for Mitchell] to do but watch that explosion."

"We're talking about people who prey on people who are weak," Rexroad said.

About 9 p.m. on the day of the murder, Bagley and two other men went to Bowen's apartment to rob him, prosecutors said.

As Bowen led the men into the apartment and went to find his drugs, Bowen testified, he heard a loud sound, spun around and saw that Mitchell had been shot.

Bowen said he saw a gun in Bagley's hands.

But Bagley's defense attorney, Joseph Murtha, urged jurors to find his client not guilty. He said Patrick Garnder, 17, pulled the trigger.

In statements to police, Bagley said Gardner was the one who shot Mitchell.

Murtha also argued that the main witness, Bowen, lied repeatedly to authorities. "The state has relied upon someone who is completely unreliable," he said.

After Mitchell was shot, Bagley led Bowen out of the apartment at gunpoint. But Bowen decided to make a break for it. He knocked the gun out of Bagley's hands and ran. But Gardner, prosecutors and Bowen say, picked up the gun and chased him around the apartment's parking lot, trying to pull the trigger and shoot him, but the gun jammed.

Gardner and another man, Kevin A. Lee, 21, have been charged in the incident.

Gardner -- charged with attempted murder and kidnapping -- faces trial later this month.

Lee, who is accused of hitting Bowen and is charged with assault and kidnapping, is expected to plead guilty later this month to unspecified counts.

Bagley told authorities that he helped plan the robbery, called Bowen to get drugs from him and then checked out the apartment with Lee on Dec. 10. Later that night, they were joined by Garnder.

Jurors reached their verdict last night after asking a question about premeditation. About 11 p.m., they found Bagley guilty of first-degree felony murder, robbery, use of a handgun in a felony, first-degree assault and the attempted murder of Bowen.

But they acquitted Bagley of the deliberate and premeditated first-degree murder of Mitchell, which possibly means they were not sure he had time to think about his actions.

Bagley faces life in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for June.

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