Co-defendant's testimony on mall killing aired

Suspected gunman said victim `disrespected' him

August 23, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A planned robbery in a Towson Town Center parking garage turned deadly last winter because the alleged gunman thought his victim "disrespected" him, one of two men charged in the shotgun killing of a longtime St. Paul's School educator told authorities.

Javon Clark said he didn't see the shooting but heard a bang after dropping off his friend, John Edward Kennedy, near where a man was walking.

Kennedy later told him he fired the gun because the man didn't do what he said, Clark told investigators during a 30- minute videotaped interview that was aired publicly for the first time yesterday.

"I mean I was scared. I was shaking. It just took me by surprise," Clark told Baltimore County detectives. After the shooting, he said, he drove back to his Middle River home with Kennedy, and the two watched the NBA rookie all-star game.

Prosecutors played the tape in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday to show that the 18-year-old had been properly questioned by police.

Clark's lawyer, Lawrence Rosenberg, challenged the admissibility of the statement, saying his client's arrest two days after the Feb. 18 shooting of 58-year- old William A. Bassett was illegal and therefore anything he told authorities could not be used against him at trial.

Clark was stopped and arrested because a witness, who did not get a good look at the shooter or driver, saw his car in the garage near where the shooting occurred and later jotted down the license tag of the Mercury Cougar, Rosenberg said.

At the time of the arrest, "they have a car possibly involved in this killing. That's what they've got. They have nothing else," Rosenberg argued to Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz. Detectives also left his client handcuffed in a room for nearly eight hours without telling him why he had been arrested before taking his statement, Rosenberg said.

But prosecutors John Cox and Stephen Bailey said that the information about the car was more than enough to justify questioning Clark and that detectives questioned him as quickly as they could. Levitz agreed.

Clark, of the first block of Old Knife Court, is charged with first-degree murder and related counts in Bassett's death. His case is scheduled for trial Sept. 7.

Kennedy, 18, of Essex, is also charged with first-degree murder. He admitted to shooting the educator, according to charging documents, but the documents do not say whether he explained why the fatal shot was fired. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in his case, which is scheduled for trial in December.

The death of Bassett, a father of two, at the Baltimore County mall jolted residents and spurred a county councilman to introduce legislation requiring video surveillance at the county's larger shopping centers.

There were no such cameras in the Towson Town Center garage at the time of the killing, and Baltimore County police credited their ability to quickly make arrests in the case to one witness who heard a bang while getting into his car in the parking lot of a nearby apartment building.

The man was not sure whether the sound came from an accident or a gunshot, but the noise drew his attention to the mall garage where he saw a man running from the stairwell area to what he described as a mid-1980s Mercury Cougar, Detective Bernard Crumbacker Jr. testified yesterday.

The man said he recognized the make and model of the car because its design was similar to the Ford Thunderbird a relative drove, Crumbacker said.

The witness pulled onto Joppa Road and while he was driving noticed that the car he had just seen in the garage was passing him, the detective said. He wrote down the tag number, and, after learning about Bassett's death, called police, Crumbacker said.

That tip led police to Clark, who was listed as the owner of the car. Authorities set up surveillance of the Old Knife Court townhouse and stopped the car after Clark left his house Feb. 20, the detective said.

Kennedy, who was in the car when it was stopped, later told police that he shot Bassett and that Clark was driving the getaway car, Crumbacker said. After talking with Kennedy for several hours, detectives confronted Clark, who after a brief hesitation, gave investigators his account of that night - that Kennedy brought the shotgun with him and that Clark drove him first to the Perring Parkway area before heading to Towson Town Center.

Kennedy was looking for someone walking toward the stores, Clark said. When they saw Bassett, Kennedy said to stop the car.

"What made you pick this guy?" Crumbacker asked at one point.

"I don't know. John said, `Stop the car,' and I stopped the car," Clark replied.

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