Fourth man convicted in killing of girl

Prosecutor says Richards planned teen's murder

August 02, 2005|By Danny Jacobs | Danny Jacobs,SUN STAFF

A Pikesville man was convicted yesterday of first-degree murder in the killing of a 15-year-old girl whose body was then set on fire in Gwynnvale Park last year.

Jason T. Richards of the 7400 block of Kathydale Road also was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Quartrina K. Johnson of Woodlawn, and of conspiracy to commit murder and second-degree rape; those charges were for crimes committed against Quartrina's 14-year-old foster sister.

Richards, 25, stood expressionless in Baltimore County Circuit Court after the jury read its verdict. The jury deliberated for less than 90 minutes.

"I'm glad it's over," said Quarnoda Sellers, Quartrina's mother, after court adjourned. Sellers buried her face into her hands as the verdict was being read, and said it was "nerve-racking" to sit through the weeklong trial.

Richards was the last of four men to be tried in the killing. Eric Thomas "Ock" Watkins, 19, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in May, and Ogden E. "G-Wizz" Coleman, 21, was convicted by a jury of the same charge last month. Michael Xavier Shelton, 19, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in March as part of a plea agreement.

Prosecutors Lisa Dever and Allan J. Webster said after the trial they were "very pleased" with the outcome. Jurors "agreed with the theory of the case," Webster said, adding that Richards' videotaped statement to police - during which he repeatedly changed his story - "showed his true character" to the jury.

Mark Van Bavel, Richards' attorney, expressed disappointment with the verdict and said Richards' testimony swayed the jurors, along with the testimony of other witnesses. Richards maintains his innocence, Van Bavel said.

In her closing argument yesterday, Dever told jurors that Richards was the mastermind behind a plan to kill Quartrina and her foster sister to prevent them from testifying in a statutory rape case against him. Richards contended that that girls lied about the foster sister's age, Dever said. The girl was 13 when she and Richards began having sex last summer.

Richards hatched a plan to kill Quartrina and her foster sister, Dever told jurors, and recruited Coleman, Watkins, and Shelton to help. Although only Quartrina was killed, Richards conspired to kill her foster sister, as well, Dever said. "This wasn't a very well thought-out plan, but it was a plan," she said.

Dever acknowledged that Watkins and Coleman were the men who killed Quartrina at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Brooklyn, but she said Richards was just as guilty in his role as the plot's organizer.

"An aider and abettor is as guilty as the perpetrator of the crime," she said.

Van Bavel accused prosecutors of "cherry-picking" facts to fit their theory of Richards' reasons for planning the killings.

"Looking at motive in this case is like trying to fit 100 pounds of flour into a 10-pound bag," Van Bavel told jurors.

Van Bavel questioned the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses - including the foster sister - as well as the lack of physical evidence putting Richards at the scene of the crime. He said Coleman acted alone in killing Quartrina and that Richards went to the school that night to buy drugs.

"This man is not a citizen of the year, but he is not guilty of the crimes charged here today," Van Bevel said.

Judge Patrick Cavanaugh scheduled sentencing for Oct. 18, two weeks after Coleman is scheduled to be sentenced. Watkins and Shelton are scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow.

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