3rd man guilty in killing

Gunman, two others were involved in robbery attempt

December 06, 2009|By Don Markus | don.markus@baltsun.com

The murder weapon, a sawed-off shotgun that killed Jason Batts during a botched robbery, was found in pieces at different locations.

The witnesses, a bit shaky in their testimony when the first of three separate trials began, became more comfortable and credible on the stand.

The juries, for three different men involved in Batts' death in May 2008, would all return guilty verdicts.

When Howard County Circuit Judge Lenore Gelfman told Lamont Johnson on Tuesday that he would be going to jail for the rest of his life with no chance of parole - plus an additional 30 years - it ended a 19-month process that saw two others, Ronald McConnell and Daymar Wimbish, handed long sentences as well.

"We're happy we got closure for the family," said Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Broten, who along with Colleen McGuinn prosecuted all three.

It took what State's Attorney Dario Broccolino called "really fantastic police work" and what Broten called "a mountain of evidence" to convict McConnell of conspiracy to commit armed robbery (and two gun charges) and Wimbish of first-degree armed robbery earlier this year.

Though prosecutors were unable to convict McConnell on first-degree armed robbery and assault, telephone records tied the 21-year-old Columbia man to Johnson, whom police said McConnell recruited to rob Elijah Jackson, who is suspected of dealing drugs. McConnell was sentenced to 30 years in jail.

The 24-year-old Johnson, accompanied by Wimbish, a fellow member of a Baltimore-based Bloods gang, spotted Jackson coming out of a Columbia sports bar with his sister, Ebony, and Batts. When Batts drove the two back to a nearby apartment complex, Johnson and Wimbish confronted the three as they sat in Batts' SUV. Johnson brandished a sawed-off shotgun and announced a robbery.

Batts was shot as he tried to flee in his SUV.

Wimbish, whose attorney said he was simply "along for the ride," was sentenced to 43 years for first-degree armed robbery and received another nine years added to a Baltimore City jail term for a gun charge.

The state's case, painstakingly pieced together by Howard County detectives with the use of cell phone records, fingerprints on both pieces of the shotgun found at the murder scene and in a Columbia apartment where the robbery was hatched, as well as on tape used to hold the weapon together, was solidified by the testimony of two witnesses who were in the car with Johnson and Wimbish when the fatal shooting took place.

One of them, an Owings Mills man known in court records as NY, received a five-year sentence on a gun charge. The other, a teenage girl from Owings Mills known as "Sunshine," avoided prosecution. Prosecutors asked that their identities not be revealed because they still feared for their safety. While McConnell's attorney, Spencer Gordon, was able to show some inconsistencies in their early testimony, those inconsistencies seemed to fade in the subequent trials.

"We thought we had very credible witnesses that we were able to corroborate in so many different ways," Broten said.

Though the verdicts have been announced and the sentences meted out, Batts' family is still having difficulties moving on.

His mother, Debra Pridgen Batts, a veteran Baltimore County detective, declined to be interviewed throughout the trial and again declined after Johnson's sentence was announced.

In a victim impact statement read in court Tuesday by Broten, Batts wrote, "Lamont Johnson has caused pain to my family that is never ending. Each and every day I awake, I go through it thinking about my son, Jason. It hurts so bad knowing that he is dead. It hurts even more knowing that I was not there to hold him and tell him how much he meant to me.

"Knowing how much pain he suffered from the shotgun wound to his back and being left alone to die on the ground of a parking lot like an animal, hurts me to no end. I have only pictures and memories stored in my mind to keep him with me. "

Compounding her anguish is the fact that her son, 23 at his death, was a twin.

"Sometimes when his twin brother walks in my room, I think it is Jason," Debra Batts wrote. "But then the reality hits and I am reminded that he is dead."

In closing her statement, Debra Batts addressed her son's killer.

"Lamont Johnson, you took away part of my heart," she wrote. "I will never understand how you could so willingly kill another human being and do this to Jason. For what have you gained? May God forgive for killing our son, because we can't."

Brenda Pridgen, a Baltimore psychologist, accompanied her sister to court every day during the trials.

She summed up the outcome of the trials in her own impact statement.

"As a family," she wrote, "we take no joy in this day. There are no winners here. There is no victory. The court's decision will not return Jason to us."

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