When a man he didn't know pointed a gun at him outside a club, Howie Hamlin said, he thought it was a joke.
He and a friend, Taavon Chambers, had been talking in the parking lot of Woodlawn's Windsor Inn early on July 1, 2007, as the bar was closing for the night. Suddenly, a third man appeared and, brandishing a pistol, ordered them both to lie on the ground, Hamlin testified Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
They ignored him. The gunman reacted by shoving the muzzle of his weapon into Hamlin's face, under his left eye.
"Then I knew he was serious, that he was trying to rob us," Hamlin said. "I slapped the gun away."
A shot rang out and a bullet grazed Hamlin across the top of his head, drawing blood. He took off running. An instant later, prosecutors say, the gun went off again and Chambers fell face-down, a fatal bullet wound behind his left ear.
Police later arrested Juvon C. Harris after tracking down the white Lincoln Continental in which a witness saw the shooter flee from the inn on Windsor Mill Road. County dispatchers had also received a call about a man driving erratically in a car of that description, and officers traced the tags to a house in the 3400 block of Piedmont Ave. in Baltimore, where Harris lived.
In the car, officers found a .40-caliber SIG-Sauer SIG Pro pistol. When put through ballistics tests later, bullet casings from the gun were found to match a casing found on Hamlin's car.
Harris was also picked out of a six-man lineup by a woman who was at the bar and who said she saw the gunman flee from the scene.
Now 28, Harris is on trial for first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, attempted robbery with a deadly weapon and other charges. Prosecutors are seeking a death sentence.
On Tuesday, the trial's second day, jurors were shown graphic photographs of both men's wounds. On the stand, Hamlin, 24, appeared to have recovered fully from his head wound, and said the shooting had happened so quickly that he did not get a good look at the assailant and could not describe him.
Asked by defense attorney Gayle Robinson why he initially thought the gunman might have been joking, Hamlin replied that there were other people in the parking lot, suggesting that it seemed odd to try to rob someone in front of witnesses. Besides, he said, "I never been robbed before."
Hamlin was asked to describe the gunman's behavior. "I figured he had to be high on something, 'cause he couldn't stay still," the witness responded.
Carrie Rowe, a crime-scene technician with the Baltimore County Police Department, told the jury that when she inspected Chambers' body and its surroundings she noticed several coins on the ground and that one of his jeans pockets had been turned inside-out, which seemed to suggest he had been robbed as he lay on the ground. Rowe also found the spent bullet casing and two unfired cartridges, she said.
James L. Locke, an assistant medical examiner, said Chambers' death most likely occurred within a few seconds. Locke said also that his study of the entry wound and the traces of gunpowder around it indicated the bullet was fired from less that 24 inches.
When questioned by detectives after his arrest, Harris repeatedly said he was not responsible for the shootings, and variously that he did not see anything or could not remember what happened, according to a video recording of the interview that was played during an earlier court hearing. Pressed to apologize for his actions, Harris conceded only that he was "sorry for what happened."
Robinson, one of his two lawyers, said Tuesday that no decision had been made as to whether the defendant would take the stand during his trial.