Jury asked for `mercy' in killing of officer

Lawyers argue against executing man convicted

February 26, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Jovan House gazed intently at a Bible yesterday as his lawyers pleaded with Baltimore jurors to spare him from a death sentence for the November 2002 ambush attack that killed city police Detective Thomas Gary Newman.

Jurors deliberated for about three hours, then, at 4:30 p.m., sent a note to Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. asking to go home for the night.

They are expected back this morning to continue deliberations in the sentencing phase of House's trial. The jury convicted House, 22, of first-degree murder last week in the retaliatory killing of Newman, who was shot on a parking lot outside a Southeast Baltimore tavern.

In his closing argument yesterday, defense lawyer William Kanwisher detailed House's troubled childhood, which involved a chaotic home life and a drug-addicted mother. He also showed them a picture of House's infant son, who was born about four months after Newman was killed.

"Each of you has the power to give mercy to Jovan," Kanwisher said. "I urge you to do so."

Prosecutors told jurors not to "fall prey to the defense's shameless attempts to evoke sympathy."

"The man you have in front of you isn't 3-year-old Jovan or 10-year-old Jovan," said prosecutor Donald Giblin. "It's 22-year-old Jovan, the assassin who, in his twisted moral code. believes it's open season on cops."

Defense lawyer Mark Van Bavel told the jury that the death penalty is not warranted.

"The state has asked you to order this man executed," Van Bavel said. "We're asking them to prove their case, and they haven't. If they can't prove it, you shouldn't kill him."

Much of the lawyers' closing arguments centered on whether Newman, a 12-year-veteran of the force, was acting in the line of duty when he was shot.

If jurors are convinced that Newman assumed his police duties in the moments before he was shot nine times, the case is eligible for the death penalty. If not, House will be sentenced to life in prison.

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

The defense has contended that Newman had been drinking and was leaving a bar, not on duty, when he was shot at 2 a.m. outside Joe's Tavern in the 1000 block of Dundalk Ave.

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

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