Verdicts expected today in killing of Columbia teen

Witness' credibility key in murder trial of 2 Glen Burnie men

February 07, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County jury is expected to come back with verdicts today for two Glen Burnie men accused in the fatal shooting of a Howard County teen in Pasadena during an attempted robbery in October 2000.

After deliberating for six hours yesterday, the jury was sent home last night.

The verdicts hinge on whether jurors believe a prosecution witness who testified that he saw Jerome Isaiah Johnson, 18, shot near his girlfriend's home in the Freetown neighborhood.

In their closing arguments yesterday, lawyers for George C. Wallace, 24, and Keith Lamont Mallet, 21, argued that the witness was the killer.

The men are being tried together on charges of first-degree felony murder and attempted robbery.

The trial began in Anne Arundel Circuit Court last week, with George Scott of Annapolis as the prosecution's key witness.

Scott testified Monday that he was standing next to Johnson when Wallace and Mallet attacked the Howard County teen-ager.

Scott said Wallace was holding Johnson at gunpoint as Mallet went through Johnson's pockets. When Wallace hit Johnson on the head with the gun, the weapon discharged, Scott testified.

An assistant medical examiner said a bullet passed through Johnson's shoulder into his chest, killing him.

Defense attorneys told the jury in their closing argument yesterday that Scott's testimony can't be trusted.

"No one puts my client at the scene but [Scott], and he's the one who committed this murder," said Mary Jo Livingston, who with fellow public defender Kimber Davis is representing Mallet.

"My client didn't kill or rob anyone," Livingston told the jurors. "He wasn't even there."

Livingston and attorney Louis J. Martucci, who is representing Wallace, quoted Scott in their closing arguments, pointing out that he identified Wallace and Mallet as Johnson's killers reluctantly after hours of interrogation by police.

"I had to get myself off the hot seat," Scott testified under cross-examination by Martucci, who noted that Scott has a criminal record, including a conviction for making false statements to police.

Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen E. Rogers said in her closing argument that Scott's testimony was corroborated by all of the physical evidence.

"The people who witness a crime like this aren't going to be priests, doctors or lawyers. They will be people like George Scott," said Rogers, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant State's Attorney Robin Rickard.

Although prosecutors say Wallace was the gunman, no distinction is made in Maryland law between the person who pulls the trigger and a participant in the crime. The charge of first-degree murder does not require proof that either defendant intended to kill Johnson.

The clarification between the charges of first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter were among the questions jurors sent to Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. last night.

Heller allowed the jury to break for the night and resume deliberations at 9 a.m. today to allow one of the jurors to attend an evening class.

The trial, which was expected to last until tomorrow, is ahead of schedule, the judge said.

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