Trial begins for Sands in street killing

23-year-old fatally shot in a botched robbery

Testimony to begin today

Defense opens with attack on key witness' credibility

Columbia

October 29, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Prosecutors attempting to prove that Columbia resident Tavon Donya Sands fatally shot a young computer student last winter are expected to rely heavily on the testimony of a woman who allegedly told investigators that Sands admitted killing a man because he wouldn't follow orders, lawyers said yesterday.

But Joy Martinez, the mother of one of Sands' children, is an unreliable witness who changed her story because she was scared that she would be implicated in the killing, defense lawyer Joseph Murtha argued yesterday at the start of Sands' trial in the killing of 23-year-old DeShawn Anthony Wallace.

"On the shoulders of Joy Martinez, the state rides into this courtroom and wants you to believe what she says from that witness stand is the truth," Murtha told jurors during his opening statement.

Sands, 21, is on trial, charged with murder, armed robbery and related counts stemming from a botched robbery Jan. 25 that left Wallace dead and netted the robbers only spare change and cigarettes.

The trial, before Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr., is expected to last a week.

Prosecutors allege that Sands and his cousins, Jonas L. Askins and Robert L. Burgess, both 18, walked up to Wallace, his younger brother and three friends in the 5800 block of Stevens Forest Road and ordered them to the ground at gunpoint.

When Wallace did not drop to the pavement, Sands shot him in the head, Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell told jurors.

"There was a cold-blooded murderer on the prowl in Howard County, and he sits across from you in this room today," Campbell said.

Although the gunman was wearing a black bandana decorated with a skull and crossbones over the lower part of his face, the robbery victims described him as having "angry green eyes," the prosecutor said. Sands has green eyes, according to court documents.

An hour after the killing, the men drove to the Jerry's Subs shop on U.S. 40 to pick up Martinez, who was working there. Martinez later told investigators that she was with the men when they retrieved two guns, got rid of clothing and "wiped down" Sands' white Cadillac, Campbell said.

And while Sands was helping Martinez fix a hole in her pants the night of the shooting, he told her "he had to kill a young man that night ... because the young man would not do what he told him to do when he told him to do it," the prosecutor said.

But Murtha told jurors yesterday that the young woman's story changed in conversations with police. She initially told them Sands never said anything about the shooting and that he was "secretive," he said.

"Her observations and her recollections shifted as she believed she may be prosecuted," Murtha said.

Testimony is scheduled to begin this morning.

This week's trial is the fourth since summer for Sands in a series of offenses including drug and gun possession, armed robbery, attempted murder and murder, which investigators allege the Columbia man committed over an eight-month period while on probation.

Police officials have since highlighted Sands' repeated release to the streets, saying his case points to a failure of the criminal justice system.

Sands has since been convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was also convicted in a gun and drug case and acquitted of a separate gun possession charge. The attempted murder charges are pending.

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