Driver in killing a `hostage,' he says

Accused `wheel man' in educator's shooting says friend held gun on him

September 10, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Javon Clark said he was motivated by fear - and a cocked shotgun aimed at his ribs - the night he drove John E. Kennedy Jr. around in search of robbery victims.

Clark testified yesterday that he made up excuses to keep his friend from robbing potential victims. But when they reached an upper level of the Towson Town Center parking garage - and encountered private school educator William A. Bassett - Kennedy demanded that he stop the car, Clark told jurors on the second day of testimony in his murder trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

"Basically, I was a hostage," Clark said, his voice matter-of-fact, his eyes aimed straight ahead. "I did everything he told me to do."

His testimony, offered near the end of the defense case yesterday, was part of his attorney's attempt to convince jurors that his client was not the willing getaway driver in an attempted robbery that ended with the death of Bassett on Feb. 18, but a victim in his own right.

Prosecutors, who referred Thursday to Clark as Kennedy's "wheel man," noted during cross-examination yesterday that Clark, 18, continued to hang out with the other man after the shooting, watching the NBA rookie all-star game later that night and driving Kennedy home two days later.

Deputy State's Attorney Stephen Bailey also insinuated that Clark's finances - his car had just been repaired, and he made $20,000 a year working as an assistant manager at a Popeye's restaurant - might have had something to do with Clark's involvement.

But Clark insisted that he only did what Kennedy told him to because he believed the other teen would hurt him if he balked.

"I was just scared," he said. "Basically, I was terrified of this man."

Clark and Kennedy were arrested two days after the killing of the 58-year-old St. Paul's School educator after a witness, who heard a loud bang coming from the mall garage and jotted down the license tag of a 1987 Mercury Cougar he had seen near the sound, called police. The car was registered to Clark at his Middle River home.

Both men, who were in Clark's car at the time of their arrest, were charged with murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Kennedy, 18, of Essex, and have filed a notice that they intend to seek a sentence of life without parole if Clark is convicted.

Kennedy's trial is scheduled for December.

From the witness stand yesterday, Clark detailed a friendship that started about three years ago but was interrupted after Clark graduated from Overlea High School last year. By the time the two reconnected last winter, Clark said he noticed that his friend was depressed. He said he helped his friend get a job at Popeye's.

Sometime before Bassett's death, he testified, Kennedy came over to his house, knocked on his door and pointed a shotgun at him. But Clark said his roommates laughed, thinking it was a joke, and Kennedy told him the gun was unloaded.

The night of Feb. 18, he said, Kennedy told him he wanted to meet some girls, but instead walked out of his house with the shotgun.

Kennedy later told him, "Man, I got to make some money," and Clark said he realized that his friend was looking for someone to rob.

In a 30-minute videotaped interview played for jurors Thursday, Clark made no mention that Kennedy pointed the gun at him while he drove, although he told investigators that he wasn't going to balk at following orders after seeing the gun.

Clark said yesterday that he tried to tell detectives about how Kennedy was holding the gun, but the officers cut him off before he could get the words out.

And he said that he continued to see Kennedy after the shooting so the other man wouldn't think "something was up." He planned, he said, to gradually cut the other man out of his life.

In other testimony yesterday, educators who knew Clark while he studied at the Academy of Finance magnet program at Overlea said he was known as a quiet student who was so well thought of that they put him in charge of watching over other students during overnight trips taken by a few of the business clubs at the school.

"Javon, in school, was the quiet person," said Keisha Maddox, a teacher at the high school. "He was the peacemaker."

Closing arguments in the case, which is being tried in front of Judge Dana M. Levitz, are scheduled Monday morning.

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