Sian James was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the… (Baltimore police )
After the verdict was read, two detectives in the front row buried their heads in their hands. Friends and relatives of the victim reached out to each other for comfort, tears welling up in their eyes and staring forward in disbelief.
While jurors had found 26-year-old Sian James guilty in the killing of off-duty Baltimore Police Detective Brian Stevenson, the charge fell far short of his friends and relatives' expectations.
"We're completely unhappy," Stevenson's partner, Detective Thomas Jackson, said after the verdict. "In the blink of an eye, he took the life of this great individual, and now all that we're left with are memories."
James, a former Jiffy Lube manager, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for hurling a piece of concrete at Stevenson's head during an argument over a parking spot in Canton last October. Prosecutors said James ratcheted up an argument into a deadly assault. His defense attorney said James had been threatened and feared for his life.
James, who had faced charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and carrying a dangerous weapon, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years at sentencing in July.
At the time of the killing, James was out on bail on attempted rape and sex offense charges, for which he'll be tried in June.
John Denholm, James' attorney, told jurors that Stevenson had been drinking and was belligerent the night he was killed, and that James had felt physically threatened by him. Denholm also implied that police were biased in their investigation of the incident.
"There is no murder if there is self-defense," he said. "There is no crime if there is self-defense."
Denholm could not be reached for comment after the verdict. State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein declined through a spokesman to comment, saying it would be inappropriate before sentencing.
James testified last week that he believed Stevenson was going to kill him.
"I thought he was going to shoot me and shoot my friend," he said. He said he lobbed the fist-sized piece of concrete from 10 feet away.
Assistant State's Attorney Charles Blomquist said James "sucker-punched" Stevenson in the head with the concrete, killing him on what was to be a celebratory night marking Stevenson's 38th birthday.
During the trial, Nicole Sauer, the girlfriend of James' roommate, testified that a group of about seven people gathered at a home in the 2800 block of Dillon Court in Canton on Oct. 16, 2010, to get ready for a night out.
Sauer said she walked to a parking lot nearby in the 2800 block of Hudson St. about 10 p.m. to save a spot for a friend.
Stevenson, driving a black Escalade, pulled up and parked in the spot despite her objections.
When James and his roommate, Robert Gibson, arrived at the parking lot shortly after, Gibson testified, Stevenson began threatening him and getting close to his face, yelling profanities and threatening to "shoot you in your ... face."
"They were serious," said Gibson, 29. "He was going to do some damage."
Stevenson's passenger, Kitrick Stewart, said Stevenson didn't threaten to shoot anyone. A friend of Sauer's also testified that she did not hear anyone say anything about shooting.
Blomquist asked James why he and his friends continued on to a downtown nightclub, leaving Stevenson on the ground with a fractured skull.
"We proceeded with our night," James testified.
Stevenson's death was the second of three deaths of city police officers that rocked the department last fall. Stevenson, a well-liked, 18-year veteran of the department, leaves behind a wife and three children.
In the courtroom Monday, supporters wore custom-made T-shirts reading "Purples Kisses," a catchphrase of Stevenson's that he used on social networking sites. Family members wept as officers looked at each other and shook their heads.
Blomquist approached Stevenson's mother and said, "I'm sorry."
"It's not fair," Stevenson's mother told him.
Jackson, who was Stevenson's former partner and was not involved in the investigation, said sitting through the trial and listening to testimony about the petty argument made the case all the more difficult to swallow.
"Something as simple as a parking spot. [The trial] just let me know how senseless it was, how unnecessary it was for [James] to react in that way. It's completely unfair that he gets to do only 10 years."
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