Columbia man acquitted of murder charge

April 04, 2009|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

A 21-year-old Columbia man was acquitted of first-degree murder in a botched robbery last year that led to a shooting death.

The jury in Howard County Circuit Court also found Ronald McConnell not guilty of first-degree robbery and first-degree assault in the May 2008 incident, in which Jason Batts was killed. McConnell was found guilty of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and two gun possession charges.

The trial lasted more than a week, and the jury deliberated over two days before returning its verdict Thursday night.

Prosecutors contended that McConnell ordered the robbery of suspected drug dealer Elijah Jackson to settle a score. Using cell phone records, prosecutors attempted to tie McConnell to Lamont Johnson, who is alleged to have shot Batts after trying to rob Jackson. Batts, 23, was in the driver's seat of his SUV, which was parked in a Columbia apartment complex. Jackson escaped without injury.

McConnell was arrested after police found his fingerprint on a shotgun at the scene. Johnson and Daymar Wimbish, both of Owings Mills, also have been charged with first-degree murder.

The jury convicted McConnell of unlawful possession of a sawed-off shotgun and possession of a regulated firearm, a violation of the terms of his probation from a previous second-degree assault charge.

McConnell will be sentenced May 29; he faces up to 25 years in prison.

"This never struck me as a murder case," defense attorney Spencer Gordon said Friday. "I hoped that it would be hard for the jury to say guilty [to murder] when my client was nowhere near the crime scene, and it was."

Prosecutors Colleen McGuinn and Lisa Broten declined to comment.

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