Unable to locate an "essential witness" for whom authorities have been searching for more than a week, Baltimore County prosecutors proceeded yesterday with the trial of only one of the two men scheduled to be tried this week in the May shooting at Randallstown High School that left one student paralyzed and three others injured.
A judge granted prosecutors' request to postpone the trial of Antonio Richard Jackson, 21, who is accused of bringing to Randallstown High the gun used in the shooting, handing it to one of the shooters and driving the black BMW in which the suspects fled. A prosecutor said that the witness, Ronald Patrick Johnson Jr., 20, of Owings Mills, has been reluctant to testify for fear of incriminating two friends accused of ending a fistfight with gunfire.
Jackson had been scheduled to be tried alongside Matthew Timothy McCullough, 17, a Randallstown student who is accused of shooting into a crowd of students May 7 as a charity basketball game was letting out.
McCullough's case went forward yesterday afternoon, after lawyers finished picking a jury and after Baltimore County Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh ordered out of the courtroom a relative of McCullough's who reportedly chanted "Not guilty, not guilty" as prospective jurors walked through the courthouse.
The young man - who identified himself in court as Vincent Robinson, 18, of Owings Mills - told sheriff's deputies and the judge that he had been singing the lyrics of a song by rapper Jay-Z.
"I suggest you restrict your singing to your house," Cavanaugh said, warning the teenager that he could be held in contempt of court and ordered to spend six months in jail. "I don't believe it was a song. I'm giving you a break."
When the trial finally got under way, the 10 women and two men on the jury heard lawyers' opening statements and the testimony of two witnesses.
Prosecutor S. Ann Brobst described the shooting as "completely unimaginable" and told jurors they might wonder how a Friday afternoon, in the midst of graduation preparations and prom season, could end with four innocent students shot outside their school.
"The answer is simple and stupid," she said. "The answer is that Matthew McCullough had been disrespected. And because of some slight, real or imagined, he decided he had to get even."
Shiela Reed, an assistant principal at Randallstown High, testified that three days before the shooting, on May 4, she saw McCullough talking on his cell phone in the cafeteria.
"He seemed upset," Reed testified. "He made some reference to someone calling him a bitch."
After telling McCullough to put away his cell phone, Reed said she watched him cross the cafeteria to a table of football players.
As the exchange between McCullough and one football player grew heated, Reed said she radioed her fellow administrators on their walkie-talkies with a Code 2, the signal for a fight.
School administrators escorted McCullough and another boy from the cafeteria, told them to stay home from school for a "cool down day," and scheduled a meeting for May 6 with the boys' parents, Reed testified.
At the end of the meeting, Reed said, McCullough would not shake hands with the two football players with whom school officials were attempting to mediate a resolution.
The next day, McCullough would return to school twice, Brobst told jurors in her opening statement - once with his brother and a group of unarmed friends and again with three different friends who brought with them a loaded handgun.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Timothy M. Dixon told jurors that there is no dispute that his client was at the shooting, that he had been involved in "an altercation" or even "that the altercation was about something very, very silly."
What is in dispute, he told jurors, is who actually fired the gun that day.
Dixon told the jury about Tyrone Devon "Fat Boy" Brown, 24, who pleaded guilty in September to attempted second-degree murder and a handgun charge. Brown was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
"There's only one person who fired that gun," Dixon said.
The trial is scheduled to resume today.