While trying to avoid incriminating his friends, a reluctant witness in the animal-cruelty trial of twins Travers and Tremayne Johnson came close to implicating himself while testifying Tuesday.
Prosecutors interrupted Michael Taylor, 21, while he was answering defense questions on the stand, raising Fifth Amendment concerns and leading the court to call in Taylor's attorney before allowing him to proceed.
The disruption occurred after defense attorneys pointed out that Taylor's appearance matched a description of someone seen running from the West Baltimore alley where a pit bull nicknamed Phoenix was set on fire May 27, 2009.
The Johnson twins, who turn 19 on Saturday, are charged in the crime. Their third day of trial testimony was characterized by lengthy bench conferences, held privately before the judge, and heated questioning of witnesses.
Defense attorneys verbally sparred with the police sergeant who handled much of the investigation, apparently trying to make him agree that Baltimore officers did a poor job by failing to investigate other suspects and not chemically testing certain clothing items.
Instead, they elicited literal responses to hypothetical questions, like whether Tremayne can fly. A surveillance video showed a male identified by police as Tremayne running in one direction, then allegedly walking from another area two minutes later.
"I can't testify as to whether [Tremayne] can fly or not," Sgt. Jarron Jackson said. He added, however, that an individual could run around the block and come from another area. He answered similarly when asked by prosecutors why Tremayne appeared to be wearing a white t-shirt and long sleeves while running, then a blue t-shirt while walking.
"Persons who commit crimes normally try to alter their appearance," Jackson said.
Jackson's testimony appeared to link Tremayne to the dog, by pointing out that the defendant's nickname "Mayne," which is tattooed on his forearm, was found written inside the vacant house on Gilmor Street where the dog stayed and also on a backpack seized from Tremayne's home.
Taylor's testimony was designed to separate the brothers from Phoenix, however. The Johnsons are close friends, and Taylor's home is in the area where the crime occurred. He repeatedly said he didn't want to testify Tuesday, and labeled earlier statements to police "lies."
His goal was "just to make up something … in exchange for freedom," he said.
Taylor was questioned about the dog-burning incident after police raided his home on June 6, 2009, found a gun and marijuana inside, and arrested him and his girlfriend. His case is not resolved.