Murder trial gives lessons about life in, out of court

July 30, 2005|By Gregory Kane

IT WAS Life 101 yesterday in the trial of Jason T. Richards, who is one of four men charged with murdering 15-year-old Quartrina K. Johnson last summer.

Quartrina's burning body was found in a Pikesville park one year ago this month. It was a week before she could be identified. In addition to Richards, three other men were charged. Ogden E. "G-Wizz" Coleman was found guilty last week and will be sentenced later this year.

Michael Xavier Shelton and Eric Thomas "Ock" Watkins cut deals to have parts of their sentences suspended if they testified for the prosecution. Both men testified against Coleman, but when it came time for Watkins to testify that Richards planned the murder to silence Quartrina about his relationship with her considerably underage foster sister, the state's witness dummied up. (Watkins also testified that the foster sister was to have been killed as well.)

Watkins first tried to plead the Fifth Amendment. When this genius was advised he had forfeited his right against self-incrimination when he pleaded guilty (well, duh!) he went back to court and claimed massive memory loss. He couldn't remember a thing about who did what or planned what the night Quartrina died.

That brings us to Lesson No. 1 in yesterday's Life 101 course in a Baltimore County courtroom:

Don't mess with Judge Patrick Cavanaugh.

Watkins is from Baltimore City and might not have known this. But the lesson should have been learned back in January, when Cavanaugh slapped a 100-year bit on Matthew Timothy McCullough for his role in a 2004 shooting at Randallstown High School that wounded several people and left William "Tippa" Thomas paralyzed.

How will Cavanaugh sentence a guy who cut a deal with prosecutors and then double-crossed them? That remains to be seen. Watkins is scheduled to be sentenced next week. Someone must have talked to him, because he had a change of heart yesterday and decided he wanted to testify after all. But Cavanaugh wasn't having it.

"Mr. Watkins," Cavanaugh admonished him, "you were in this courtroom two days ago. The first time you took the Fifth Amendment. You were advised you'd forfeited your Fifth Amendment rights with your guilty plea. You came back and claimed you couldn't remember anything."

Then, addressing Watkins' lawyer and prosecutors, Cavanaugh said that "to let this man testify at this point would be suborning perjury. Nice try, Mr. Watkins. You're excused."

Prosecutors don't know if Watkins was the victim of witness intimidation or if he refused to testify because he and Richards are close friends. Which brings us to Lesson No. 2:

Be leery of your "friends."

In this real-life horror story, a cross between the Stop Snitching video and the movie Lolita, the snitching is coming fast and furious. The irony is that Coleman doesn't seem to be one of the snitches. But you can't convince Richards of that.

"G-Wizz is a punk" and a "snitch," Richards told Baltimore County Detective Gary Childs in a taped interrogation that was shown to jurors.

But on that same video, Richards did some snitching of his own. He was quick to give up both Coleman and Watkins. That brings us to Lesson No. 3:

Don't try to hoodwink Childs.

Richards tried and tried. He started by telling Childs that he knew nothing of Quartrina's murder. He claimed he was never at the Brooklyn middle school where she was killed. Richards said he was with Coleman, Watkins and Shelton the night she was killed but had no idea her body was in the trunk of a car one of them was driving.

But after getting Richards to admit that he, Watkins and Quartrina's younger foster sister were never out of each other's sight during a 27-hour period that began with the girls running away with him and Watkins and ended with Quartrina being killed, Childs knew he had caught Richards in a lie. It was then that Richards "snitched" on Coleman and Watkins, which brings us to Lesson No. 4:

Earth to Baltimore's "stop snitching" community: When a 15-year-old girl is brutally murdered, telling the police what you know about it isn't snitching. It's called "confessing." It's good for the soul.

Finally, we come to Lesson No. 5. Quartrina and her foster sister were with four idiots the night she was killed after they both ran away from home. Richards said the reason was that the foster sister "was sick and tired of her grandmother telling her what to do." (The girls were in fact living with a foster mother.)

Earth to clueless teens: Telling you what to do is the job of your parents or grandparents. It will not do you any harm.

Sometimes it might even save your life.

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