Judge to give verdict in shooting death

No direct witnesses, and weapon is missing

November 09, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge will decide next week if an Annapolis teen-ager is guilty of a crime in fatally shooting his 58-year-old Eastport Terrace neighbor.

Justen Jeremiah Johnson, 18, has maintained that there is no evidence, only speculation, that Charles Edward "Nick" Kirby's death was more than an accident that occurred in self-defense.

Johnson, a former Annapolis Senior High School honor-roll student charged with murder, did not testify during the two-day nonjury trial before Judge Ronald A. Silkworth. The judge will give his verdict Tuesday afternoon.

Johnson's account was presented through a friend, David Fisch, with whom he spent the afternoon of April 6 after Kirby's shooting. Assistant State's Attorney Shelly A. Stickell told the judge that the friends acted out a version of the shooting and played video games.

In closing arguments, Stickell and another assistant prosecutor, Daniel Andrews, painted a chilling scenario: Kirby and Johnson were heard arguing before entering Kirby's apartment in the 1100 block of Frederick Douglass St. When the teen-ager left alone, witnesses noticed nothing odd in his demeanor, and he did not ask anyone to call for an ambulance for the gravely wounded man. Instead, he went to his friend's house. He concocted a story in which Kirby fired twice at Johnson but the gun jammed. Then in a struggle, a bullet tore into Kirby's chest.

"They go get a BB gun to re-create this - or just plain old create this," Stickell said.

Stickell said Johnson washed up and spun around to ask Fisch to check him for blood.

Though the shooting was on a Friday, Johnson waited until Sunday to turn himself in because he did not want his weekend ruined, Stickell argued.

She said medical and scientific evidence showed that the shooting occurred from a distance of two to four feet, which would indicate that Kirby and Johnson were not locked in a struggle, and that the lack of other marks on Kirby meant he was not fighting someone off.

But defense attorney Alan H. Legum disputed prosecutors' arguments. "The evidence is this case simply does not add up to a crime," he said, arguing that prosecutors were trying to chip away at Johnson's account, but could not prove it was wrong.

They had no witness to what occurred in Kirby's apartment, and other evidence and testimony did not necessarily negate his client's account, Legum said.

The murder weapon vanished from Kirby's apartment and has not been found. With no thorough examination of the gun, Legum told Silkworth, medical and scientific testimony was speculative.

Johnson, who finished high school on house arrest in Glen Burnie, sat quietly beside Legum this week, his family filling several rows behind them and watching the trial. Kirby's relatives have observed from benches on the other side of the small courtroom.

Kirby's account of the crime has been ruled inadmissible. He told police before he died that Johnson had the gun, it misfired twice, and struck him on the third try, during an attempted robbery. Prosecutors dropped the attempted robbery charge this week.

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