Hotel shooting trial opens

1 killed, 1 injured at party, but gun was not recovered

Opening statements made

Columbia

September 19, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The first-degree murder trial of a 21-year-old Jessup man accused of a double shooting that left one man dead at a chaotic birthday party in a Columbia hotel in January began yesterday in Howard County Circuit Court.

The case centers on an incident that attracted widespread attention and concern about teens holding parties in hotels, and it generated sharp parental criticism of police handling of the subsequent investigation.

Shamal Ira Chapman is accused of shooting a gun through two closed doors between adjoining hotel rooms. Long Reach High School senior Andre Devonne Corinaldi, 18, was killed in the incident, and Lauren Nicole Perkins, 18, of Elkridge was seriously injured.

Chapman, of the 6700 block of Old Waterloo Road, is also charged with attempted murder and related charges in the shooting Jan. 13 at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Stanford Boulevard.

The trial, presided over by Circuit Judge James B. Dudley, is expected to involve dozens of witnesses and to last eight days.

In her opening statement yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy said the shooting occurred at a surprise birthday party that Tanette McMillan, 19, of Odenton was throwing for a friend at the hotel. Chapman and another person began arguing, and McMillan separated them, putting one in each room, Murphy said.

McMillan was in the room with Chapman and standing near the doors connecting the two rooms when Chapman told her to "get out of the way, shorty," and pulled out a gun, Murphy said. McMillan ran to the front desk for help.

Corinaldi was shot in the head and chest and died at the scene. Perkins was shot in the head and is blind in her left eye. Perkins "will always have signs of what happened to her," Murphy said. "But she's here."

A fourth bullet struck the adjoining room's bathroom door, where partygoers were taking shelter from the gunfire.

"This is a case about a cold-hearted killer ... [who] shot through two doors not once, but four times," Murphy said.

The defense maintained in its opening statement that Chapman was not the shooter, arguing that witness descriptions of the shooter have changed and a witness statement claiming Chapman stole a gun during a robbery is unreliable.

Assistant Public Defender Janette DeBoissiere said Chapman's photo, which was identified by two witnesses, was the only one of a person at the party of the six photos in a lineup. Another party guest was seen with a gun, she said, and many party guests are unaccounted for.

"There were people there we have no clue of ... that have information that have not come forward," DeBoissiere said.

As the prosecution opened its case yesterday, the tape of a 911 call made after the shooting by Monique Jefferies, 17, of Elkridge, was played for jurors. She told the dispatcher that one victim was already dead but the other had a heartbeat. Frantic screams of "Oh, my God" and "Her heart is still beating, they better come now," were heard in the background.

The jurors also saw video of the crime scene showing Corinaldi's body sprawled face up on the floor in his camouflage shirt and jeans.

The prosecution faces the challenge of convincing jurors that Chapman was the gunman, although the weapon has not been recovered. Murphy said prosecutors will link Chapman to what they believe is the weapon, a .40-caliber Glock handgun that witnesses claim was stolen from Chapman's neighbor Feb. 3, 2000. No arrests have been made in the burglary.

Murphy said four shell casings recovered at the scene match shell casings that the neighbor had from before the gun was stolen. Witnesses also told investigators that Chapman had been seen carrying a black gun, she said.

Earlier this year, the double shooting drew harsh criticism and concerns across the county.

County Executive James N. Robey criticized the hotel staff's actions in allowing the party to take place, claiming a "total shirking of responsibility on the part of personnel at the hotel in which it occurred," and labeling it "an invitation to disaster."

Parents of teen-agers who attended the party criticized police, claiming they failed to act quickly to save Corinaldi and physically harassed the partygoers by handcuffing, searching and booking them.

Shortly after the shooting, Police Chief Wayne Livesay held a public meeting to address the concerns and said police reports show their response time was two minutes and 12 seconds. Police immediately attended to Corinaldi, but he was already dead, Livesay said.

An internal police investigation concluded that some police actions - the handcuffing of witnesses while they were taken to a police station for interviews and placing three of the 16 witnesses in holding cells - were inappropriate. The accidental police discharge of a shotgun in a hotel hallway after the shooting also led to a review of procedures.

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