At trial, a call for civility

and a need for clarity

April 04, 2010|By Jean Marbella | jean.marbella@baltsun.com

As she concluded the first week of an already contentious trial, Judge Gale E. Rasin remarked that she was still optimistic that civility could be taught.

But then, one of her would-be students, who had left the courtroom after a brief and quite civil appearance, chose that moment to burst back in, her previous calm suddenly turned into righteous anger. "Excuse me," she declared to Rasin, "the detective man threw this in my face."

She waved a pink slip of paper, which looked like the summons that had been handed to (not thrown at) her, to sign in the courtroom - by a female bailiff. Apparently, the offending paper was something else, and issued perhaps in some other manner outside the courtroom.

Civility? I'd settle for clarity.

But that might be in even shorter supply as the trial of Lamont Davis continues this week. Davis, 17, is charged in last summer's shooting of Raven Wyatt, the 5-year-old girl who got caught in the crossfire of some stupid teenage fight.

She survived, but, as you can see in a recently shot video on The Baltimore Sun Web site, the now 6-year-old moves haltingly, as if enveloped in a personal fog; she has to crawl up the stairs of her house and speaks almost unintelligibly.

As the teenage witnesses took the stand this week, it became increasingly clear how hard it can be to get justice in this and other such shoot-'em-ups in the city. And how quickly a typical adolescent drama - girl insulted by boy, calls another boy to defend her, fight breaks out - can turn deadly.

It's difficult sorting something out in court, with kids more accustomed to settling things on the street. In just a couple of days of testimony, witnesses have recanted statements to police, said they don't remember saying what transcripts said they said, and testified to something happening that a police surveillance tape showed never did.

On top of that, no one claims to know anyone's actual name - the cast of characters to date prominently features a "Reds" and a "Murder" - and everyone comes with a certain attitude, prompting Rasin to give what she called a "civility lesson."

The main problem, of course, is that chronic Baltimore ailment - no one wants to testify, out of the real fear of retaliation. "Snitch," one witness said she'd already been called. With some decided arm-twisting and grants of immunity, some witnesses have been dragged to the stand.

The July 2, 2009, shooting resulted from an argument that Dayshawna Hall, the mother of Davis' child, had with another teen, Tradon Hicks. She says he spit on her; he denied it on the stand Friday. Another boy "plucked" Hicks, one witness testified, apparently meaning he punched him, others jumped in and, inevitably, shots were fired. Hicks was hit in the forearm, Raven in the head.

Who did the shooting, though, remains in dispute - the prosecution says Davis, the defense says the aforementioned Murder, although as of Friday he had not been located.

On Friday, prosecutors called Hicks, aka Reds, to the stand. Surely he would shed light on who he was fighting, right? Instead, he said he couldn't remember what the guy looked like or what he was wearing.

The next witness, a teen who watched the fight, said it was between Murder and "a light-skinned boy with pretty eyes." Hicks? Who knows?

Neither that witness nor Hicks identified Davis as the shooter, although earlier, a teenage girl did. Without looking at him, she pointed to Davis at the defense table and read a statement she signed after selecting him from a police photo array the day after the shooting: "The guy that I picked was shooting at Reds, and he didn't mean to shoot the little girl coming from the store."

Meanwhile, still to come when the trial resumes Wednesday will be even more contested testimony - about the GPS tracking device that Davis, who has a long juvenile record, was supposed to be wearing at the time of the shooting but which, according to varying accounts, had either been cut off or was malfunctioning or, the defense says, proves he was at home at the time of the crime.

Whether the testimony clarifies things or further confuses them remains to be seen.

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