Jury convicts 2 city teenagers of killing man at birthday party

Youths had been asked to leave festivities because of rowdiness

December 14, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun reporter

Two teenagers were convicted by a jury last night in Baltimore Circuit Court of second-degree murder in the death of a city man shot while giving a Sweet 16 party for his daughter.

Jurors needed about four hours to find Jamal Charles, 17, and Dwayne Drake, 18, guilty of killing Bryant C. Jones at his Southwest Baltimore home. The defendants had been thrown out of the April 2006 party for being disruptive.

Defense lawyers had argued that prosecutors did not present enough evidence, and that any of 10 people near the shooting could have pulled the trigger.

Charles and Drake were also convicted of handgun violations. Each faces up to 50 years in prison on all the charges. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 31.

"I'm happy we have some closure," said Alisa Jones, the victim's wife, after the verdict was read. "It was all in God's hands. I prayed not only for my family but for those two guys' families as well. They suffered, too."

After the trial concluded, Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, said two of the witnesses in the case had to be persuaded to testify after Charles' brother threatened the family, a fact not disclosed during the trial.

William Charles, 21, was found guilty of two counts of witness intimidation in March after he made threats to members of the Jones family. He is serving a seven-year sentence.

Alisa Jones and five other witnesses testified during the five-day trial that they saw Charles and Drake argue with Bryant Jones over a $1 admission fee after they were asked to leave.

Charles, Drake and about a half-dozen other boys entered the party marking the birthday of Tamirra Jones and danced in the basement. When the boys became too rowdy, Tamirra Jones testified, she wanted them to leave.

As they were leaving, Charles, Drake and the other boys stopped in the front of the house and demanded a refund for the fee.

A witness testified that after the brief argument with Bryant Jones over the money, she saw Drake hand Charles an object and encourage him to shoot Jones. The witness, Takia Goode, the victim's niece, said she then saw flashes of light and heard what sounded like firecrackers.

Goode said she was not sure the object was a gun, a point Charles' lawyer stressed during her closing arguments. Margaret Mead, the attorney, said most people would run when they hear or see gunfire.

After the verdict, Mead called the evidence against her client confusing. She said Charles was standing near the gunman but did not have a weapon on him. Mead said her client was blamed because he was the one most familiar to the prosecution's witnesses.

"Jamal Charles is the only name they knew," Mead said. "They wanted someone to pay for this. The attitude is, `If he didn't do it, he knows who did.'"

"The jury got a very slanted, tainted group of witnesses," Mead said, adding: "My client says somebody reached around him and fired. He didn't do it."

The defendants were juveniles at the time but were charged as adults. The murder weapon was not recovered.

Drake was convicted of aiding the shooting. Three of the witnesses said Drake told Charles to show Jones "how we handle things" just before Jones was shot. They said Drake instigated the situation by cursing and yelling over the dollar fee.

Stephen H. Sachs, Drake's attorney, said after the verdict that the relatively quick decision indicates his client was not judged on the facts. "We look forward to the appeal," he said.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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