Jury convicts man in slaying of Granite businessman

Home invasion led to killing, prosecutors say

May 18, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

A man accused of leading a home invasion in Granite that ended with the shooting death of the house's owner was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree felony murder, assault, burglary and a handgun crime.

After four hours of deliberations, a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury found that James S. Tanner, 27, had participated in the killing of a football coach and businessman after holding him up Oct. 13 in his home. Prosecutors said Tanner had two accomplices, but he has not revealed their names and they have not been found. Tanner faces a maximum term of life without parole.

The victim was Lamont Kareen Blackston, 35, who owned a convenience store on North Avenue and was an assistant coach in the Charm City Buccaneers, part of a youth league. He lived in the 10200 block of Harrison Grant Drive, near the borders of Carroll, Howard and Baltimore counties, with his wife, Lakierra, 15-year-old daughter and infant son.

Prosecutors said Blackston was accosted as he arrived home about 3 a.m. and hustled inside. Tanner — holding a silver handgun and wearing a blue hoodie — and his accomplices demanded money and valuables, according to testimony from the victim's wife and daughter. When Blackston and his family could come up with only $1,500 in cash, Blackston was shot in the back of the head, according to the prosecution.

During Tanner's trial, which began last week, the Towson jury watched a videotape of a police interrogation shortly after his arrest in which he repeatedly denied having anything to do with the killing, despite being confronted with cell phone records that showed him near the scene of the crime at the time of the robbery.

A blue Chrysler Town & Country van was spotted on a road near the crime scene shortly after police were summoned, but a pursuing officer lost sight of it in Northwest Baltimore. When the van was discovered shortly afterward, parked with no one inside, it was found to be registered to Tanner's grandmother, with whom he lived. Detectives found one of Tanner's cell phones in the van, along with other evidence that led them to conclude it had been used by Tanner and his accomplices on the night of the murder.

Two days later, police arrested Tanner and charged him with the crime. They also arrested his girlfriend, Terell V. Spencer, and charged her with conspiracy to commit murder and with being an accessory after the fact. The charges against Spencer were ultimately not prosecuted.

Assistant State's Attorney John Magee told the jury that cell phone records placed Tanner near Blackston's home at least twice during the two nights before the killing. That meant, Magee said, that Tanner was carefully planning the crime by observing the family's movements. Magee said the defendant and his accomplices were careful to use rubber gloves.

"These guys are covering their tracks so that they don't get caught," Magee said. But they made a "huge mistake," he went on, when they took Blackston's cash from him and accidentally scooped up a Burger King receipt along with it. The receipt was later found in the van and traced to a meal purchased by Blackston several hours before he died.

Detectives also recovered two weapons near the spot where the police officer had begun chasing the van, indicating that the men had tossed them from the fleeing vehicle. One of the guns, a 9 mm Smith & Wesson pistol, was later determined to have been the murder weapon.

John E. Cox, Tanner's attorney, said in his closing argument that he wished the police officer had been able to catch up to the vehicle, "because then we'd know that my client wasn't in the van that night." Cox said that there was no evidence that Tanner himself was using his two cell phones, and he questioned the accuracy of Lakierra Blackston's identification of Tanner as the team's leader.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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