Club owner says Harris disobeyed gunman, headed for his car

Former councilman, out with another woman, invoked wife's name as he fled holdup

September 14, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

A jazz club owner who was with Kenneth N. Harris moments before the former Baltimore City Council member was shot to death said in court Tuesday that when a gunman approached them outside the club and ordered them back inside, Harris blurted out an expletive and then his wife's name, Annette.

Harris, who was spending the evening with another woman, disregarded the gunman's commands and "broke off to get back to his car," where the woman was sitting, said the club owner, Keith A. Covington.

A moment later, a shot rang out, although Covington, a gun pointed at the back of his head, was headed back into the club and did not see anyone hit.

"I'm frightened for my life at this point like at no other time," said Covington, the fourth witness to testify in the Baltimore Circuit Court trial of three young men — Jerome Williams, Charles McGaney and Gary Collins — accused of killing Harris in a Northeast Baltimore shopping center on Sept. 20, 2008.

Covington said he did not know until police told him later that Harris had been shot and killed. Harris' female companion, Monica Foreman-Robinson, who was the trial's first witness on Monday, said she was cut by flying glass when the gunman fired through the car's window but was otherwise unhurt.

Covington, who has run the New Haven Lounge since 1987 and had known Harris for almost a decade, told the jury that Harris had stopped by the club about 1 a.m., after it had closed, to borrow a corkscrew for a bottle of wine and to use the restroom. Covington let Harris into the bar and opened the bottle for him. On his way out, Harris told Covington he wanted to introduce him to a woman in his car, and the two stepped outside.

It was then that the gunman, spouting threats and profanity, walked up, his weapon pointed "directly at my forehead," Covington said. "You know what this is," the man with the gun shouted, according to the witness. "Get the **** back in the building before I kill you."

Two accomplices appeared as Harris bolted toward his car, parked a few feet away, Covington said. "One is running toward me, and the other is running toward Ken," he recalled. The faces of all three were covered, he said, one by a grisly Halloween mask of a skull with a black shroud around it.

Asked how he felt at that moment, Covington said he could "only pay attention to the gunman's demands," and was afraid that, "if my employees panic and run, they may be shot as well."

Covington recalled "screaming" at his staff members — who had stayed after closing for a meeting — that they were being robbed but that they should "remain calm, give them whatever they want, do whatever they say."

Surveillance videos, taken from cameras within the club, show Covington being prodded into the bar at gunpoint by one of the assailants. Seconds later, the other two men appear. One vaults over the bar, gun in hand, and joins the other — the man in the mask — at the cash register. A bartender has his hands in the air, as do one or two employees on the other side of the bar. The rest have covered their heads with their hands.

Some of the employees were robbed, and about $2,000, the night's proceeds, was taken from a safe that Covington was forced to open, he said. As he described the man who had trained the gun on him throughout the ordeal — wearing a bandanna, a red baseball hat and a hood — Covington glanced quickly at the defendants sitting just a few feet away, all wearing ties, button-down shirts and trousers. Just as quickly, he looked away.

He said the robbers had been incensed that there was not more cash in the club. "You got more money in here! You got $13,000 in here! I seen it!" Covington quoted one of the men as saying. They went through his pockets, taking his wallet and a money clip embossed with the words "It's only money."

As the three men ran out the building's rear door, Covington said, he grabbed a .38-caliber revolver he kept in a drawer and fired three shots at them, prompting another expletive from one of the robbers. None was hit.

A forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on Harris testified that a single bullet had entered the 45-year-old victim's back below his left shoulder and traversed his left lung and windpipe. She said it then ruptured the subclavian artery, a major blood vessel under his right collarbone, causing "significant bleeding in his chest cavity."

Ling Li, an assistant medical examiner in the state coroner's office in Baltimore, said that, as a result of the damage to the windpipe, or trachea, Harris had aspirated blood into his lungs. A bullet was recovered from tissue under Harris' right shoulder.

As Li spoke, Harris' sister, sitting in the courtroom's third row, buried her face in her hands.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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