Killer spared by city jurors

House gets life, no parole in death of police officer

`Believed he would suffer more'

Detective's sister satisfied with `an awesome verdict'

February 27, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Calling life in prison worse than death, jurors in Baltimore's first capital case in six years spared the life of convicted murderer Jovan House, who ambushed and killed city police detective Thomas Gary Newman.

"They figured that death would be easier for him than life in prison," said juror Anita Beauford, who said she was one of the few jurors who initially wanted the death penalty. "They believed he would suffer more from life in prison."

House, who was convicted last week of first-degree murder in the retaliatory killing of Newman, apologized to the court in a barely audible voice.

"I'm sorry this incident ever happened, and I hate myself for being a part of it," said House, 22. "I'd like to say I'm sorry to the Newman family."

After the jury's decision, Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. gave House a life sentence without parole for the murder conviction, a consecutive life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder and 20 years for using a handgun in the crime.

Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said the verdict sends a message to others who might try to intimidate or retaliate against police.

"The message is if you take someone's life, you will spend the rest of your life in prison with your friends," Clark said.

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

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

Saunders, 22, who is accused of being the primary gunman, is facing a possible death sentence. Anthony A. Brown, 34, believed to have been the getaway driver, could receive life in prison. Both men are scheduled to be tried this year.

Juror Angela Williams said she decided that revoking House's freedom was a more severe punishment than killing him.

"This is retaliation from [Newman] being a police officer," Williams said. "They didn't go after a man in the street, they went after a police officer."

Yesterday, Newman's daughter, Alexandria, 5, stood on the courthouse steps after the verdict holding a picture of her father, a 12-year veteran on the force.

Rena Martin, the detective's sister, said she was satisfied with the sentence.

"The jury gave us an awesome verdict," Martin said. "It was justice, and we are grateful."

However, Sgt. Michael Dunn broke into tears outside the courthouse after the verdict, saying that life in prison wasn't a severe enough punishment.

"I don't agree with the verdict," said Dunn, who worked with Newman in the Northwestern District. "I think it should have been death."

Jurors deliberated for about six hours over two days before rendering their verdict. After the proceeding, they spoke with prosecutors and defense lawyers to explain the reasoning for their decision.

Some jurors said they thought House was "the No. 2 shooter" rather than the primary culprit who shot Newman.

The detective was shot nine times by two men as he left a Southeast Baltimore tavern in November 2002.

One bullet found in Newman's body could be traced to the gun House used in the attack - a stolen 9 mm Glock.

"They thought Jovan was the No. 2 shooter," said defense lawyer Mark Van Bavel.

Jurors also found that Newman was killed in the line of duty, which was a point of contention in the three-week trial.

If jurors had found that Newman was not acting in the line of duty when he was shot, the case would have not have been eligible for the death penalty.

Prosecutors Donald Giblin and Matthew Fraling argued that although Newman's shift had ended when he left Joe's Tavern in the 1000 block of Dundalk Ave. at 2 a.m., he assumed police duties at the instant he saw his assailants with a gun, and that he was therefore witnessing a crime.

Sun staff writers Laurie Willis and Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

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