Trial opens for teen-ager charged in death of man

Lawyer says shooting was in self-defense

November 07, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Prosecutors told an Anne Arundel County judge yesterday that an Annapolis teen-ager argued with and then shot his neighbor in the chest, leaving the 58-year-old man bleeding in his Eastport Terrace apartment.

But the defense attorney for Justen Jeremiah Johnson, 18, countered that the April 6 shooting was an accident that occurred as Johnson was defending himself during a struggle.

Johnson, a former honor roll student at Annapolis Senior High School who completed high school while under house arrest, is charged with murder and handgun violations in the shooting of Charles E. "Nick" Kirby. The nonjury trial before Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth began yesterday and is expected to end today.

"It does not equate to a crime," defense counsel Alan H. Legum told Silkworth in opening statements. "Mr. Kirby pulled a gun on him and pulled the trigger twice; it did not fire."

He said the gun went off during a struggle. The account is based largely on what Johnson told a friend after the shooting. Legum said no evidence of a crime existed.

Assistant State's Attorney Daniel Andrews disputed that contention, noting that the pair were seen arguing outside the building in the 1100 block of Frederick Douglass St. before they went up the stairs to Kirby's apartment.

A witness, Michelle Hieston, testified that "they seemed like they were angry" and that Kirby asked the teen-ager, "How are you going to tell me what to do?"

About 10 minutes later, Hieston said, she saw Johnson leave alone, and that "there wasn't anything out of the ordinary about him." Then she heard Kirby call out, but did not believe he was hurt. Another neighbor ran to Kirby's apartment and summoned help.

Kirby was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he died the next day. Kirby's account to police was that Johnson threatened him with the gun and squeezed the trigger twice before it fired on the third try.

The gun has not been recovered. While prosecutors speculated that Johnson disposed of it, the defense said it was possible that two other men who were in Kirby's apartment could have taken it before police arrived.

Experts testified that they thought the nature of Kirby's wound indicated he was not shot at close range. Andrews said that would detract from Johnson's self-defense claim because he and Kirby would not have been locked in a struggle.

Johnson is not expected to take the witness stand, and Legum said he has not decided whether anyone else will testify for the defense.

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