Lending credence to defense lawyers' claims that their clients were defending themselves from an armed group, testimony before a grand jury investigating the death of Noah Jamahl Jones revealed that the Pasadena teenager's friends brought weapons to the home where the deadly melee took place last summer.
One of Jones' companions, Marion Shepherd, told the panel that he brought a gun and that another friend had a stun gun when they, Jones and a fourth person went to rescue a teenager from a home because they thought he was in danger.
In the testimony - revealed in court documents filed yesterday and secret grand jury proceedings provided to The Sun - Shepherd said that he had the unloaded gun tucked in his waistband when they went to the house of Michael Steinbach shortly before 11 p.m. July 24.
He said he had bought the gun for $250 from a "crack head" in the Eastport section of Annapolis.
The case has taken on racial overtones. Jones, who was to start his senior year at Northeast High School, and his friends are black. The people charged are white, though reportedly there were black guests at the Steinbach house that night.
When prosecutors dropped murder charges in August because the early autopsy findings did not mesh with statements to police that Jones was beaten to death, the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for a federal civil rights probe, which is under way.
Though murder charges were dropped, the original four defendants plus two others were indicted in November on manslaughter and related charges. They will face trial in May.
Since the week after the fatal brawl, defense lawyers have maintained that Jones was part of an uninvited group of armed youths who showed up at the Steinbach house. The group came to the house to free a friend they believed was being held there, according to Shepherd.
Testimony does not place a weapon on Jones.
"But they didn't go there with the intentions of doing anything. Marion was hit first. Everybody knows that," Robin Jones, the dead youth's mother, said last night.
"Jamahl didn't have any weapons," she said.
Other testimony to the grand jury indicates that one of the defendants, Joshua David Bradley, struck Shepherd, though there is conflicting testimony about whether that was before or after Shepherd displayed his gun.
Bradley, 20, is charged with manslaughter and related charges, along with Scott E. Burton Jr., 19; Gregory M. Florentino, 21; Jacob Tyler Fortney, 19, all of Pasadena; David Michael George, 20, of Glen Burnie, and Richard Elbert McLeod, 18, of Chestertown.
Sparking the fight was a telephone call to one of the people Jones was with that night.
Dewayne Hebron, an acquaintance of Jones', told the grand jury that a friend called Tomarco Harris and said, "They had Jahlil [Best] locked up in the house, and they were planning to jump him." The group piled into three cars to go free him. Whether Best was in danger is unclear.
Hebron testified that in the melee, he saw Jones chasing a white youth.
Jones died of a fractured skull. During the melee, several people kicked Jones while he was on the ground, and some later worried that they had gone too far, according to testimony.
Jeremy Bradley, younger brother of one of the defendants, told the grand jury that he saw four other defendants crowding around one of the black youths on the ground and kicking him. He named Fortney, McLeod, Florentino and Burton, but also said he was not sure. He said McLeod later said he was the one who knocked Jones to the ground.
Some of the statements are coming to light in a request for a new bail hearing for McLeod, filed yesterday by Karl H. Gordon, an assistant public defender. Gordon refused to comment.
In the court papers, Gordon wrote that Jones and Hebron were "undressing for a fight" upon arriving at the Steinbach house.
McLeod is the only one whose bail was not reduced to $75,000 and who remains jailed. His bond is $250,000.
Anne Arundel County prosecutors oppose lowering his bail, arguing that McLeod has a history of violence, hid in Snow Hill from police after Jones' death and failed to appear in a Worcester County courtroom in July on a charge of possession of an open container of alcohol.
The case remained under investigation by county police and a grand jury through late summer and fall. The grand jury did not charge a hate crime, and police indicated they did not find evidence of one.
Court records show that police took three vials of suspected cocaine from Shepherd when he was being treated for injuries at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. A warrant for his arrest on a drug charge was issued July 25, the day after the fight. It has not been served.
Shepherd has no fixed address, according to court records. But David Putzi, Fortney's lawyer, said yesterday that officials could have served Shepherd when he came before the grand jury in September, but they chose not to serve the warrant on him.
Police and prosecutors "decided for the purpose of the investigation to treat him as a witness and not as a defendant to get as much information as possible," said Assistant State's Attorney William D. Roessler, lead prosecutor in the case.