Jurors shown surveillance video as Phoenix trial begins

Prosecutors seek to place brothers at scene of dog-burning

March 29, 2012|By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

Jurors watched a 35-minute police surveillance video, a key piece of evidence, as state prosecutors began Thursday to lay out their case against brothers Tremayne and Travers Johnson, accused of setting a pit bull ablaze.

Deputy State's Attorney Jennifer Rallo likened the state's case to the pieces of a puzzle, telling jurors they would hear statements from police officers and a friend of the defendants that would corroborate what can be seen in the video. But defense lawyer Andrew Northrup, representing Tremayne Johnson, emphasized that absent from the video is any picture of a crime being committed.

The arguments were similar to those lawyers made in the Johnsons' original trial, held in January and February 2011. That trial drew national attention from animal-rights advocates and ended in a mistrial when one juror would not agree to convict the brothers.

They are accused of dousing a young female pit bill with an unknown accelerant and lighting her on fire May 27, 2009, in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore. Rescue workers named the dog Phoenix. With severe burns over much of her body as well as puncture wounds, the dog was euthanized days later.

Rallo told jurors the prosecution planned to call witnesses including Detective Syreeta Teel, who choked up on the stand at the first trial as she described the moment she discovered Phoenix burning, as well as Michael Taylor, a friend of the Johnsons who came close to implicating himself while testifying in the trial last year.

In the video, a man can be seen leading the dog to two other men, who then disappear from the rotating camera's view, Rallo said.

"Within minutes, the little dog was engulfed in flames," she said.

But Northrup said he plans to attack the police investigation of the case, which began six days after the burning. And Sharon May, a lawyer representing Travers Johnson, called her client "a convenient choice" for police looking to close a case.

"There will be no justice for Phoenix because the people who did this to her are not on trial here," Northrup said.

The prosecution's only witness called Thursday was Detective Mario Notargiacomo, who works in the police's CitiWatch surveillance center. He testified that he made the surveillance tape for detectives from footage recorded on one of the center's cameras attached atop a pole at the corner of North Calhoun and Presbury streets, near where the dog was found burning.

The jury was empaneled after lawyers spent a day and a half of questioning a pool of about 120 people. Potential jurors' exposure to media coverage of the case was a challenge. About 80 percent of the 40 jurors questioned Thursday morning said they had read or seen reports on the Johnsons.

The jury is made up of eight black women, three black men and one white woman. There are four alternate jurors: a white woman, a white man, a black woman and a black man.


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.