Families' tears mark penalty phase in trial of man convicted of city officer's death

Jury hears from sister of victim, mother of killer

capital sentence possible

February 24, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

As prosecutors tried to persuade jurors to impose the death sentence on a man convicted of killing Baltimore policeman Thomas Newman, the detective's sister tearfully addressed the court, causing several spectators and jurors to openly weep.

"Lexie misses her father so much. She sits in front of his picture and tells him what she did in school," Rena Martin said of Newman's 5-year-old daughter. "Many days she's mad at her daddy for not coming back to her. She writes him letters and asks mama to put a stamp on them."

Newman, a 12-year veteran of the force, died in a retaliatory killing Nov. 23, 2002, outside a Southeast Baltimore tavern.

A Circuit Court jury convicted Jovan House, 22, a week ago of first-degree murder. Jurors must decide whether to sentence him to death or life in prison.

The trial ground to a halt Friday when his father approached jurors during a lunch recess and pleaded for his son's life. The move landed James Alfred House in jail, where he has been held since Friday on contempt of court charges.

James House did not intend to break any laws, said his lawyer, Harold P. Dwin.

"He's not a sophisticated guy," Dwin said. "He did not intend to poison the jury. He was a father reacting."

Under Maryland law, jurors are prohibited from talking to one another outside of deliberations or to anyone else about the details of a pending case. The elder House has a hearing today before Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr., who is also on the bench for his son's case.

After Friday's events, the judge interviewed the jurors individually; they all said that James House had not influenced them and that they could be fair in deciding the case. Matricciani decided to retain all 12 jurors and four alternates.

State rests case

The state rested its case yesterday, and the defense is introducing witnesses in an effort to spare Jovan House's life.

If jurors give House a capital sentence, they will become the first city jury in 14 years to impose a death sentence.

For House's case to qualify for the death penalty, prosecutors must prove that Newman was acting 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 have argued that when he was killed, his shift was over but that he assumed police duties at the instant he saw his assailants with a gun and was therefore witnessing a crime.

House told police in the hours after Newman's killing that he was shot because House's friend, Raymond Saunders, "owed" the officer for testifying against Saunders' half-brother. His half-brother, Andre Travers, was convicted of shooting the detective in April 2001 and is serving a 30-year sentence.

Saunders, 22, and Anthony A. Brown, 34, are also charged in the killing and will be tried later.

House's lawyers say he should be spared the death penalty because Newman was killed leaving a bar, not in the line of duty.

Judge denies motion

Defense lawyer Mark Van Bavel made a motion for the judge to dismiss the death penalty phase of the trial, arguing that the jury does not have the criteria to decide whether Newman was instantaneously on duty because police rules are vague on the subject.

Matricciani denied his motion, saying that there is evidence Newman might have known he was witnessing a crime before he was shot and that it is up to the jury whether or not they believe the evidence.

As part of the defense's case, lawyer William Kanwisher brought in the mother of House's baby, Keyona Williams, and House's mother, Lillie Robinson.

Robinson sobbed as she testified about the trauma in her life, including siblings who were killed, her drug use and her home being invaded by gunmen who were looking for stolen drug money. She said she tried to protect her children, which is why she never smoked crack cocaine in the home.

While expressing sorrow for the Newmans, she said she doesn't want her son to die.

"I know that God guides my son," Robinson said. "I never believed an eye for an eye is the way God would want it."

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