Judge acquits two men who shot intruder

Harford businessmen said they acted in self-defense at Baltimore warehouse

`Case was an injustice'

With jury trial waived, judge says state failed to prove act was murder

January 24, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Arguing that the state's murder case "challenged the foundation of the right to defend yourself," two Harford County businessmen were acquitted yesterday of gunning down a drug addict who broke into their East Baltimore warehouse.

Prosecutors said the men, frustrated by repeated burglaries at their business, were acting with murder in mind, not self-defense, when they killed Tygon Walker with a shotgun and a handgun in June 2001. But Baltimore Circuit Judge John M. Glynn pronounced Kenny Der and Darrell R. Kifer not guilty of first-degree murder seconds after attorneys finished their closing arguments.

"This is a sad and disturbing matter," Glynn told the courtroom packed with teary-eyed supporters of the defendants. "The case is straightforward. The state has the burden of proof, and I cannot find that the state met that burden of proof."

The courtroom erupted into gasps of relief, and Der and Kifer hugged each other. Both had said that Walker appeared to be carrying a weapon and threatened to kill them.

"This case was an injustice that challenged the foundation of the right to defend yourself," Kifer said. "I am hoping people will now be able to defend themselves and not be prosecuted by the law."

The Der and Kifer case is one of a handful of Maryland self-defense killings in which the gunmen have not been held legally responsible for murder.

Most recently, a Baltimore County grand jury declined in 2001 to indict brothers Dominic "Tony" Geckle and Matthew Geckle; they killed an unarmed man and injured two others who had broken into their concrete plant in Glyndon.

In Baltimore, Der and Kifer were indicted but waived their right to a jury trial, instead opting for Glynn to decide the matter. Der said he was grateful for the judge's decision.

"Now I can go on with my life," said Der, who nearly broke down and cried as he testified on his own behalf yesterday. "It's been a living hell. This has been a tremendous burden emotionally and financially."

Throughout the five-day trial, prosecutor Mark P. Cohen said Der and Kifer, both 36, did not act in self-defense - claiming that they knew an intruder was in the Wolfe Street warehouse and fired at Walker, 37, with intent to kill. The men own a furniture refinishing business in the building, which is owned by Der's father.

Cohen said the men were angry because the warehouse had been broken into many times in recent weeks, including one incident hours before the shooting. Walker had 11 gunshot wounds, including five in the back.

"We presented all the evidence we had," Cohen said after the verdict.

On June 30, 2001, Der and Kifer were on the first floor of the two-story warehouse when they heard noises upstairs. They had been fixing a table for the Mount Washington Tavern, where Der works as a disc jockey.

Der, armed with a handgun, and Kifer, armed with a shotgun, walked upstairs to investigate the noise when they came upon Walker, who had just broken in through a window. Walker, who had no money or drugs on him, was intoxicated and high on morphine, according to an autopsy report.

Defense attorneys David B. Irwin and Leslie A. Stein argued that Walker was brandishing a hammer and said he was going to kill the men. Der and Kifer fired, hitting Walker five times with shotgun pellets and six times with bullets from Der's .45-caliber handgun.

Kifer saw Walker fall, then turned and walked back downstairs, according to testimony. Der, who had emptied his gun, reloaded it, walked over and looked at Walker, then went downstairs and called police, according to the testimony.

Walker had lived in the 1100 block of E. Belvedere Ave. He was convicted of felony theft in Baltimore in 1994, records show. He also had been arrested eight times on various charges in Baltimore between 1993 and 1996.

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