Man is guilty in officer's killing

He faces death penalty for first-degree murder in '02 tavern shooting

`Decision sends a clear message'

Prosecutors say victim was targeted for testifying against another man

February 18, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A Southeast Baltimore man was convicted of first-degree murder yesterday in the retaliatory killing of police Detective Thomas G. Newman, clearing the way for prosecutors to argue this week that he should be put to death.

Jovan House, 22, was also found guilty by a city Circuit Court jury of conspiracy to commit murder and handgun violations in the city's first death penalty case in six years.

"Any other verdict would have undermined any progress we have made in restoring civility to the streets of Baltimore," Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said moments after the verdict was read. "This decision sends a clear message that we are not going to tolerate this type of terrorism on the streets."

The second phase of the trial, in which jurors will decide on the death penalty, will begin Friday.

House is accused of being one of two gunmen who ambushed and shot Newman, 37, nine times outside a Southeast Baltimore tavern Nov. 23, 2002.

Defense lawyer William Kanwisher said he was "disappointed" with the verdict, which the jury reached after deliberating five hours over two days.

"We are going to mount a strenuous defense in the attempt to save Mr. House's life," Kanwisher said. "Mr. House is a life worth saving."

As the verdict was announced, Newman's younger sister Rena Martin cried out, "Thank you, Jesus." House's family members called to him, "I love you, Jovan."

Capital punishment is a rarity in Baltimore, where the city's top prosecutor, Patricia C. Jessamy, has sought the death penalty only one other time in her nine-year tenure, even though dozens of cases are eligible each year.

Baltimore prosecutors most recently sought the death penalty in 1998. A judge handed down a death sentence to confessed serial killer Joseph R. Metheny for the murder of a city woman, but an appeals court overturned the sentence and gave him life without parole.

Part of the reason they are seeking death in this case, prosecutors have said, is because capital punishment is the wish of Newman's family. Newman was a father and a 12-year veteran of the force. "Our brother was there for Baltimore City, and now Baltimore City was there for him," Martin said of the verdict. "This makes us feel like our brother's life wasn't in vain."

Newman's relatives remembered him as a Washington Redskins fan with a playful sense of humor. They said he was fearless as a police officer and sometimes referred to himself as Superman.

Prosecutors say House killed the detective in an act of retaliation.

According to a taped statement, House told police in the hours after Newman's killing that House's friend, Raymond Saunders, "owed" the officer for testifying against Saunders' brother.

Saunders' half-brother, Andre Travers, was convicted of shooting and wounding the detective in April 2001. Travers is serving a 30-year sentence.

Saunders, 22, and Anthony A. Brown, 34, are also charged in the killing and will be tried later. Police believe Saunders was the second gunman and faces the death penalty.

Brown is accused of being the getaway driver and faces life in prison.

In House's taped statement, he contended he was the getaway driver, although prosecutors presented evidence to prove he was one of the shooters.

In order for House's case to qualify as eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors must prove that Newman was in the line-of-duty when he was shot at 2 a.m. in the parking lot of Joe's Tavern in the 1000 block of Dundalk Ave.

They are expected to argue that when Newman was killed, his shift was over, but he assumed his police duties at the instant he saw his assailants with a gun and therefore was witnessing a crime in progress.

Assistant State's Attorney Donald Giblin presented witnesses who testified that Newman's gun was found out of its holster and next to his body, an indication that he reached for his weapon and, as a result, was on duty.

Defense attorneys have said several times during the trial that Newman was off duty and at a bar drinking when he was killed. They also argued that his service revolver was not next to his body when he fell.

The killing occurred after Newman and two friends left the bar.

Newman was at the tavern most nights, either working as a security guard or drinking on his nights off, according to testimony. The night he was killed, he was socializing.

The men he was with - Cleve Henderson, 50, and Ricky Henson, 44 - were doormen at the tavern. They stood next to him in the parking lot as he was shot and fell to the ground, according to testimony.

Henderson and Henson then jumped in a car and chased the gunmen as they sped off in a getaway car and stopped in the O'Donnell Heights housing complex.

Police officers testified that 10 minutes after the shooting, they found House hiding in a utility shed in O'Donnell Heights. At the time, he was wearing a black shoulder holster. The murder weapon - a 9 mm semi-automatic Glock handgun - was discovered in the shed by officers immediately after they arrested House, investigators said.

In his taped statement, House said that he had the weapon because Saunders gave it to him after the shooting.

Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

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