Jurors hear grim details of man's life

Prosecutors seek death for House, convicted of killing police officer

February 25, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Jurors considering the death penalty case of Jovan House learned various details of his life yesterday, including that he was expelled from high school for truancy and had been arrested five times before being charged last year with murdering Baltimore police Detective Thomas Newman.

House, 22, who was convicted last week of murdering Newman in a retaliatory killing, was arrested twice as a juvenile and three times as an adult, spending nearly two years in jail for drug crimes and theft.

Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning, and the jury is expected to begin deliberations this afternoon to decide whether to give House the death penalty or life in prison.

If jurors impose a capital sentence, they will become the first city jury in 14 years to do so.

The defendant's father, James Alfred House, was released on his own recognizance yesterday after being held in jail without bail for five days for contempt of court. According to court documents, the father pleaded with jurors during a recess last week to "spare his son."

James House apologized to Circuit Judge Albert J. Matriccianni Jr. for talking to jurors and interfering in the proceedings. His lawyer told the judge that his client, who has worked in the mailroom at the University of Maryland for 22 years, did not know it was improper to approach the jurors.

James House also testified as a witness yesterday for his son, saying he tried to show him the difference between wrong and right.

"I tried to teach him to grow up and be a good person in life," he said. He said he did not approve of the way House's mother raised him, describing a chaotic home filled with vagrants, drug use and foul language.

"If he had lived with me, he would have grown up to be a better child," House said. "I had a more stable home."

He also testified that he "would probably lose [his] mind" if his son were put to death.

Other details of Jovan House's life emerged yesterday, including that he failed the eighth grade and was expelled from Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy in 1999 for truancy.

He has held several jobs, including positions as a janitor at a Burger King and a server at Westport Recreation Center, court records show.

On April 3, his girlfriend, Keyana Williams, gave birth to his son, Jovan House Jr. At the time of Newman's murder, Williams was pregnant and a student at Pennsylvania State University.

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. fifteen months ago in the parking lot of Joe's Tavern in the 1000 block of Dundalk Ave.

Although Newman's shift was over, prosecutors have argued that he assumed police duties at the instant he saw his assailants with a gun and was therefore witnessing a crime.

House told police that Newman was shot because a friend of House's, Raymond Saunders, "owed" the officer for testifying against Saunders' half-brother in another case.

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

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