Father of city boy shot while playing to testify in trial

Rodney Harden becomes prosecutors' key witness after another was killed

March 27, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The father of a 10-year-old boy shot in the neck last summer emerged yesterday as the prosecution's key witness in a case that sparked public outrage and a heated spat between the city's mayor and chief prosecutor.

Perry Spain, 20, faced a jury yesterday in the opening day of his trial on attempted murder and assault charges stemming from the shooting in July of Tevin Montrel Davis, a child who was wounded with a stray bullet as he played on the steps of his family home.

The case suffered what prosecutors called a "catastrophic loss" in November, when a key eyewitness in the case, Juan Wilson - whom police described as a drug dealer - was killed.

In yesterday's opening statements, prosecutor Roger Harris called the shooting a "heinous act" and told the jury that Tevin's father, Rodney Harden, will identify Spain as the gunman. Harden was on the steps with Tevin when he was shot.

But defense attorney Warren A. Brown said that the state has a weak case and cannot prove that Spain was the shooter. Brown said Harden did not identify Spain as the shooter until weeks after his son was shot.

"When a father sees his son get shot and he doesn't tell the police who did it for two or three weeks later, there's a problem," Brown said.

Tevin's mother, Antoinette Davis, testified yesterday that she was surprised when Spain was arrested because she knew him from the neighborhood and that he was a "friend" to her son.

Brown said the police felt pressure to close the case, so they hastily arrested Spain.

"After the incident the mayor was ranting and raving and police wanted to arrest someone," Brown said. "The pressure was on to resolve this thing, to shore it up."

At the time of the shooting, Mayor Martin O'Malley railed against the criminal justice system, angry that Spain was released on a relatively low bail back into the Fairmont Avenue neighborhood where Tevin lived.

Though the defendant and the victim lived 12 doors apart, no prosecutor showed up at the bail hearing to argue for a higher bail. Prosecutors said they were not notified by police about the hearing.

The night Tevin was shot, the child and some of his friends in the neighborhood were on the steps of the Davis home about 9 p.m. Next door, Tevin's mother was talking to her neighbors outside.

A shot rang out, and nobody paid much attention because gunshots are frequent in the area, Antoinette Davis testified. Then, they heard a series of shots and started screaming for the children to go inside.

Afraid, Tevin ran next door to his mother, she said. As he ran, he was shot through his neck, and the bullet exited his mouth. It tore apart part of his lip and knocked out his front teeth.

Police later learned that a craps game had been going on nearby minutes before the shooting. Four men ran up and robbed the men playing dice at gunpoint, according to police.

Harris, the prosecutor, said Spain was one of the men who was playing dice, and that he ran after the assailants who robbed him, shooting at them. One of the bullets hit Tevin, he said.

Spain was released on $35,000 bail four days after the shooting after no prosecutor showed up to his hearing to argue for a higher bail.

O'Malley's temper flared over the issue, and he lambasted prosecutors and judges, calling the situation "appalling." State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy fired back with a news conference held by her spokeswoman, Margaret T. Burns, who blasted the mayor, saying he was "failing miserably" to reduce crime.

The mayor and state's attorney later agreed on a handful of minor criminal justice reforms.

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