Sands, 22, convicted in 2002 murder case

After two mistrials, Columbia man guilty of robbery, shooting

March 06, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 22-year-old Columbia man with a history of assault, robbery, drug and gun convictions was convicted yesterday of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old computer student.

A Howard County jury took just more than two hours to return guilty verdicts against Tavon Donya Sands for murder and 11 other counts related to the Jan. 25, 2002, killing of DeShawn Anthony Wallace and the robbery and attempted robbery of his younger brother and three friends.

As jurors read the verdict, Sands, who is already serving 39 years in prison for a series of crimes committed during the eight months before the shooting, stared straight ahead, glancing occasionally at the jury box.

Prosecutors said they plan to ask Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. to impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole at Sands' sentencing June 18.

"This is another conviction on Tavon Sands' record and it will once and for all protect Howard County from him," prosecutor Jim Dietrich said after the verdict.

Yesterday's verdict came after two previous attempts to try Sands, one of three cousins charged in the murder. The previous prosecutions ended in mistrial after witness Gaston Davis gave unexpected or barred testimony from the witness stand.

With Davis, who placed Sands' white Cadillac near the shooting scene in Columbia's Oakland Mills village, testifying again this week, lawyers for both sides wondered, as one said, whether the third trial would "come screeching to another halt."

But prosecutors Dietrich and Kim Oldham said they put extra protections in place this time, asking the judge for a break in the court action so they could talk to Davis and a few other witnesses before they took the witness stand about what words or topics to avoid.

"A lot of people are relieved that it appears to be finally over," Dietrich said.

Wallace's mother, Celestina Wallace, said she had been antsy this week, worried about the possibility of another mistrial. Yesterday's verdict was good news, she said, and the sentencing will be "my closure."

"I'll never be the same," she said. "This week has been like Jan. 25, 2002, all over again."

Joseph Murtha, one of Sands' two defense attorneys, declined to comment.

Sands is the second person to be convicted in the case. His cousin, Jonas L. Askins, 20, was convicted of first-degree murder and a handgun charge last year and is serving 45 years in prison. Prosecutors declined to prosecute the third cousin, Robert L. Burgess, 20, saying there was insufficient evidence.

It was a case that hinged on the credibility of a single witness, Sands' former girlfriend, Joy Martinez.

Despite testimony that the gunman was short with a light complexion and green eyes - descriptions that matched Sands - prosecutors presented no witnesses who could identify Sands as the shooter and offered no forensic evidence to link him to the crime.

But Martinez, who has a daughter with Sands, said he confessed to her at least three different times in the hours and days after the shooting - even showing her the gun. Sands told her he shot the victim in the head because he refused an order to get on the ground, Martinez testified.

With Martinez's statements central to the case, prosecutors offered evidence to corroborate as much of her account as they could.

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