Doubt over gun forced acquittal in shooting case

Witness' description of pistol conflicted with other testimony

1 killed, 1 hurt at party

October 03, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Concerns about the description of a possible murder weapon by the state's key eyewitness left a Howard County jury with reasonable doubt that a Jessup man was guilty of first-degree murder in a fatal hotel shooting in Columbia.

The defendant, Shamal Ira Chapman, 21, was acquitted Thursday evening.

Tanette McMillan, 19, testified during Chapman's eight-day trial in Howard County Circuit Court that she saw him draw a black gun that was silver on top during a chaotic birthday party at the Courtyard by Marriott on Stanford Boulevard.

She said she ran to the front desk for help and didn't see who shot through two closed doors joining two rooms moments later. Long Reach High School senior Andre Devonne Corinaldi, 18, was killed and Lauren Nicole Perkins, 18, of Elkridge was seriously injured in the Jan. 13 shooting.

But the gun believed to have been the murder weapon - a .40-caliber Glock stolen from Chapman's neighbor that was never recovered - was all black, the owner testified. That raised the possibility of another gun or another shooter.

"It was possible that some other person in that room had another gun, so because it was possible we couldn't call him definitely guilty," said one juror, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We'll never know what happened in that room."

A second juror, who also insisted on anonymity, concurred.

The 12-person jury deliberated for more than eight hours Thursday to reach the unanimous decision, clearing Chapman, of the 6700 block of Old Waterloo Road, of first-degree murder, attempted murder and related charges.

After more than six hours of deliberation, the jury reported it was deadlocked on whether Chapman was the shooter. The first juror estimated the jury was split between four people who believed he was guilty and eight who believed he was not guilty.

Discrepancy discovered

Those who wanted to convict Chapman were convinced McMillan's testimony was true, she said. But when they headed back to deliberations after telling Judge James B. Dudley they would try to reach a conclusion, they again pored through their pages of notes and discovered the differing descriptions of the gun.

The jurors who thought McMillan's testimony was credible decided, "If we believe this girl, then we have to believe everything she says," the first juror said. "I feel bad that somebody got away with this murder." But the second juror said some doubted McMillan's testimony, leaving them to wonder if "what she described might have been fabrication after the fact."

The second juror also said the naming by the defense of two other possible shooters - Lorence Smith, 22, and Brian Andrew Mack, 17 - also raised doubts in some jurors' minds. Smith and Mack said they were not at the party, but witnesses testified the pair had attended.

The frenzied atmosphere of the party, which an estimated 20 to 40 people attended - a number of whom were uninvited and unaccounted-for when police arrived - also led some jurors to question the state's contention that Chapman was the gunman, the second juror said.

"It just seemed like the way the investigation went, it just followed the one branch of the tree that took [police] to where they had enough evidence on anybody, and they just took that to court rather than doing a full and thorough investigation," he said.

Both jurors described the deliberations as emotionally difficult and traumatic.

"I don't think any of us were 100 percent sure that he wasn't guilty," the second juror said. "But the law is not to prove 100 percent innocence. The law is `beyond a reasonable doubt.'"

McMillan said she cried after hearing the verdict Thursday.

Chaotic scene at party

McMillan, who had planned the party for a friend, was trying to control the chaotic atmosphere by separating groups of people who were arguing into two adjoining rooms.

She testified she was in a room with Chapman, standing near the closed doors joining the two rooms and facing the bathroom where Chapman was standing. She testified she saw Chapman pull out the gun and tell her to step out of the way.

"I testified that I saw him with the gun, I don't see how they can say that he wasn't the one who did it," said McMillan, who lives in Odenton. "I just don't understand."

McMillan said she and some of the other state witnesses are fearful about possible retribution but they can't "worry ourselves to death."

"What kind of idiot would shoot through a closed door?" McMillan said. "[The shooter] has got to be the biggest idiot - that's what I wanted to say in the trial, but I didn't get to say it."

Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy said she had no idea why the state lost but that after two weeks of testimony, the jury did its job trying to sort through all the evidence.

"We certainly thought the evidence pointed in one direction and that was to Shamal being responsible for Andre's death and Lauren's injuries," she said.

No plan to reopen case

County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said the case will remain closed unless new evidence surfaces.

Janette DeBoissiere, the assistant public defender who represented Chapman, said she thought there were serious questions about who else was in the bathroom that were not answered during the investigation or trial.

Jurors "obviously had some strong doubts about what had happened," she said. "It was much more intense and chaotic than the state tried to show."

Despite the jury's decision, McMillan said she is still completely confident about what she saw that night.

"I still know it was [Chapman] - well at least the one who had the gun," McMillan said. "I can at least say that much."

Sun staff writer Lisa Goldberg contributed to this article.

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