Man admitted killing, witness says

Woman testifies to threats for telling about elderly man's shooting

January 25, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

She spoke quietly and timidly from the witness stand, telling jurors about the afternoon when she said Jose Antonio Bassat admitted killing "the old man."

Then, the young woman said yesterday, he threatened to use the same gun on her and her family if she or her mother told anyone about it.

The testimony from Giselle Hernandez came on the second day of the murder trial of Bassat, who is charged in the death of a great-grandfather who was walking through his Turners Station neighborhood at dusk the night before Halloween in 2004. George Linwood King, 73, was fatally shot as men with a gun came after a group of boys who had been throwing eggs and shooting BB guns in the Turners Station neighborhood.

Defense attorney Larry Polen has said that there were several men firing weapons that night and that it's impossible to tell who fired the shot that killed King, an Army veteran and retired Bethlehem Steel worker who was known around Turners Station simply as "Mister George."

During a testy cross examination, the defense attorney asked Hernandez about inconsistencies in what she has told police about what happened the night of the shooting - including who may have called the men who brought a gun to look for the egg throwers.

The commotion began after a woman attending a Halloween party at the Hernandez house got hit in the chest with an egg by the group of middle-school boys running around the neighborhood.

Hernandez's younger brother chased after the boys with a sword, witnesses said. Later, several men with a handgun went looking for the boys and shot at them, hitting King in a major artery in his leg.

Prosecutors say those men were Bassat and Jose Emmanuel Otero, 24, of Baltimore, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in King's death and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Polen, the defense attorney, told jurors that three people - including Otero and Hernandez's younger brother but not his client - shot at the children. Only Bassat and Otero were charged in King's death.

The defense attorney also asked whether Hernandez remembered telling police that the men who arrived at her home that night had more than one gun. Hernandez said she did not.

Hernandez, who no longer lives in the United States, was so nervous in court that she declined to reveal where she lives.

Her mother, Mirabel Cosme, testified yesterday and also appeared uncomfortable.

She turned her chair on the witness stand so that her back was to Bassat and began crying when she was asked to point him out during her testimony.

Testifying through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, Cosme told jurors that she was afraid of the boys throwing eggs and shooting BB guns at her house during the Halloween party. She said she called her husband and asked him to come home or to send someone who could speak both English and Spanish.

"I just wanted to talk to the parents of the children or to the children," Cosme testified. "Because I didn't want any problems."

Both Cosme and her daughter said that within weeks after the killing, Bassat threatened to use the same .357-caliber handgun on their family if they told anyone that he had admitted shooting "the old man."

Safety concerns were also apparently on the mind of a juror hearing the case.

After testimony about Bassat's alleged threats against the Hernandez family, a female juror sent a note to the judge asking if anyone was keeping track of who was coming in and out of the courtroom. She asked whether those visitors might be making observations about the jurors and expressed concern that someone who had been sitting in the trial watched her walk out of the courthouse at the lunch break.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Vicki Ballou-Watts, who is presiding over the case, and the attorneys spoke privately with the juror.

The trial is scheduled to continue through Tuesday.

jennifer.mcmenamin@baltsun.com

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