Chapman acquitted in slaying

Jury deliberates for 8 hours before reaching decision

Student killed at party

Jessup man, 21, was accused in shooting at hotel

September 28, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A 21-year-old Jessup man was acquitted of first-degree murder and related charges by a Howard County Circuit Court jury late last evening.

The man, Shamal Ira Chapman, was accused of firing a semiautomatic pistol through two closed doors at a chaotic birthday party in a Columbia hotel in January. The bullets killed Long Reach High School senior Andre Devonne Corinaldi, 18, and seriously injuring Lauren Nicole Perkins, 18, of Elkridge.

The jury deliberated for more than eight hours before finding Chapman not guilty.

Chapman held his head down while the verdict was read and then grinned widely and hugged his attorney.

"Shamal is very grateful," said assistant public defender Janette DeBoissiere. "He was genuinely terrified during deliberations."

Members of Chapman's family who sat outside the courtroom through the trial embraced each other after the verdict and called friends and other family members on their cell phones.

"I am so pleased because I know my son didn't do nothing," said his mother, Aner Chapman. "I was hurting for both sides," she added, referring to the victims.

The prosecutors had no immediate comment.

The defense argued successfully that the Jan. 13 shooting at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Stanford Boulevard could have been committed by someone other than Chapman, who lives in the 6700 block of Old Waterloo Road.

Presided over by Judge James B. Dudley, the eight-day trial began Sept. 18 and involved dozens of witnesses. Many testified about a frenzied party scene with arguments and an estimated 20 to 40 guests - a number of them were uninvited.

The jury met from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. before emerging to declare itself deadlocked over the question of whether it was convinced that Chapman fired the gun. Dudley gave the jurors the option of resuming their deliberations in the morning or continuing into the night. The jury chose to continue deliberating.

During closing arguments yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Lara Weathersbee said the evidence proved that Chapman fired the shots after an argument with Jeff Thompson, 21, at the party.

Thompson had testified that Chapman was staring at him, making him uncomfortable, and he eventually threatened the defendant. The argument caused the party host, Tanette McMillan, 19, to separate the men, one in each adjoining room.

"The worst thing that should have happened on January 13, 2001, at the Courtyard by Marriott, was a fistfight," Weathersbee said.

Weathersbee said witness testimony placed Chapman in the bathroom, where the shooter apparently stood. One witness testified he saw someone who looked like the defendant pacing near the bathroom with his hands in his pockets, which Weathersbee said showed he contemplated the shooting, proving premeditation.

McMillan, the state's key witness, testified she was standing in the room with Chapman, while someone was banging and yelling on the other side of the doors. She said she was standing in front of the adjoining doors, facing the bathroom, when she saw Chapman draw a gun from his pocket, cock it, and then tell her, "Step out of the way."

She ran to the front desk, seeking help. Moments later the shots were fired - two struck Corinaldi in the head and chest, killing him instantly; one hit Perkins in the head; another lodged in the adjoining room's bathroom, where some partygoers had sought shelter from the gunfire.

Weathersbee said McMillan had no motive to lie during her testimony, and that she has "been steadfast and she has been certain" of what she saw that night. Both Thompson and McMillan later identified Chapman in a photo lineup.

But Assistant Public Defender Rodney Gray questioned McMillan's certainty in his closing argument, pointing out that she told the hotel staff only that "someone" had a gun, not providing any other description, and that she said there was a number of people in the room before the shooting.

He also said McMillan did not write in her police statement that she saw Chapman cock the gun or that he told her to move away from the door.

Gray said the chaos at the party contributed to the doubt of the shooter's identity. A number of the witnesses didn't know many of the party guests, and he said the authorities don't know everyone who was at the party - some partygoers fled before police arrived.

Gray said the state focused onlyon Chapman as a suspect and has "completely ignored gathering any other evidence in this case."

During the trial, the defense attempted to create doubt that Chapman was the only likely gunman by pointing to two other possible suspects - Lorence Smith, 22, and Brian Andrew Mack, 17 - both of whom testified they were not at the party.

Don Thomas testified he saw Mack go into the hotel party and said Mack later confessed that he was the gunman. But Weathersbee pointed out that Thomas said he did not contact police because he thought Mack's story was "say so." She called Thomas' testimony "unreliable information that should be excluded."

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