Judge OKs testimony from Sands' ex-girlfriend

Prosecutors seek use in Askins' murder trial Columbia

April 22, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

In the hours and days after a 23-year-old computer student was killed during a botched robbery in Columbia, Tavon Donya Sands told his then-girlfriend that he "had to" fire the fatal shot because the young victim refused to obey his orders and reached into his pocket for something, the woman testified yesterday.

Sands said he knew that the computer student, DeShawn Anthony Wallace, was dead "by the way he fell," Joy Martinez testified during a hearing in the murder case against Sands' cousin and co-defendant, Jonas L. Askins.

At first, she said, she didn't believe what Sands was telling her because "he didn't seem serious about it." But when he recounted the event later, he sounded "afraid," and she believed him "to a certain degree."

Prosecutors offered Martinez's testimony yesterday as part of a bid to persuade Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley to allow them to introduce statements Sands is said to have made to Martinez - statements that are considered hearsay - at Askins' trial.

During his conversations with Martinez about the killing Jan. 25 last year, Sands, 21, also is said to have detailed his cousin's role, according to testimony. Sands said that Askins, 19, was "running pockets" of other victims on the parking lot of the Stevens Forest Apartments - a reference to the robbery itself - while Sands dealt with Wallace and shot him when he did not do as he was told, Martinez said yesterday.

Prosecutors Kim Oldham and Jim Dietrich argued yesterday that Martinez should be allowed to testify about Sands' alleged confession - including Askins' part in the incident - at his cousin's trial because it is so damaging to his own case that it falls under an exception to rules governing hearsay.

But Askins' public defender, Patricia L. Chappell, said yesterday that allowing the statements without giving her a chance to cross-examine Sands, who is not expected to testify because his murder case is pending, violates her client's constitutional rights.

She also argued that Martinez's various accounts to authorities and to a Howard County grand jury are "wildly inconsistent." Martinez initially told police that Sands told her nothing about the shooting and later told the grand jury that he told her he was involved in a robbery, according to testimony yesterday. Months later, she agreed to help authorities.

Yesterday, Martinez said she lied in early accounts because she was following "orders" from Sands, who was her boyfriend and had fathered her child.

Dudley ruled yesterday that the state can use most of Sands' alleged statements to Martinez at Askins' trial, barring prosecutors from using a single comment Askins is said to have made. Askins' trial is scheduled for May 19. Sands, whose first trial ended in a mistrial last year after a witness offered surprise testimony, is scheduled for retrial Aug. 11.

Both are charged with first-degree murder and related counts in the death of Wallace, the armed robbery of one other man and the attempted armed robbery of three others who were with him at the time of the incident.

At the time of Wallace's death, Sands was on probation for assault, under investigation in an attempted murder case and out on bond in four drug, armed robbery and gun cases.

He has since been convicted of violating probation and in three of the four cases pending at the time of the killing - convictions that have netted him a cumulative sentence of 39 years. Sands was acquitted in a separate gun case.

Last week, Sands pleaded guilty to felony assault in the attempted murder case and received a 15-year sentence that will run at the same time as his other sentences.

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