Emerald Smith (Family photo )
Wails and screams echoed through the halls of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse on Friday, as relatives and friends of two teenage girls absorbed the fact that no one would be imprisoned for their hit-and-run deaths on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard last June.
About two dozen relatives and friends comforted each other after walking out of the small courtroom they had packed for the two-day trial of Reuben Dunn. When the jury foreman read off "not guilty" on each of three charges, the supporters gasped, some weeping and others shaking in anger.
"Everybody is appalled, upset and feels that justice was not served," said Mary Topi, mother of one of the victims, Emerald Smith. "Some people were saying they have no faith in the justice system or the jurors of Baltimore City."
But jurors were not certain that Dunn was driving the maroon Lincoln sedan that struck Smith, 17, and Courtney Angeles, 16, as they walked to a friend's house. They acquitted the Severn man after an hour of deliberations in Baltimore Circuit Court.
Two jurors said that prosecutors' evidence did not dispel questions about the involvement of Dunn and his girlfriend, Kendra Myles. Myles was driving when police pulled the couple over 26 minutes after the June 13 accident. But she testified that Dunn had been driving at the time of the accident and had asked her to switch seats with him — a version of events that Dunn's lawyer disputed.
Dunn, 29, was charged with failure to return to the scene of an accident and two counts of vehicular manslaughter. Baltimore Police Detective Patty Bauer, the accident investigator, testified that the car was traveling 42 to 50 miles per hour in a 35-mph zone, and that Angeles' body was thrown 129 feet from the impact in the crosswalk at the Pratt Street intersection.
Myles, 27, originally told police she was driving while Dunn slept, but she changed her story two days later. She made a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to being an accessory and receiving a suspended five-year sentence and probation in exchange for her testimony against Dunn.
She was the prosecution's key witness, and she broke down in tears several times while spending an hour on the witness stand Thursday.
Topi said she believed Myles' testimony and Assistant State's Attorney Robyne Szokoly's closing argument. Szokoly contended that if the couple hadn't switched seats, then why did no shards of glass fall from Myles' lap when she got out of the car? A Maryland Transportation Authority Police dashboard camera recorded the 20-minute traffic stop near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
But Dunn's lawyer, James L. Rhodes, suggested that glass left on the seats was instead a sign that the couple hadn't switched seats.
Rhodes also questioned testimony from Maryland Transportation Authority officer John Willis, who pulled Dunn and Myles over after the accident. The officer testified that he could smell alcohol on Dunn's breath, but he did not include that information in any police reports.
For jurors, the evidence highlighted the severity of the crime, but it didn't reveal who was responsible.
In an interview after the trial, one woman, who identified herself only as Juror No. 6, said that while the panel felt sympathy for the victims' families, there wasn't enough evidence to say without a doubt who was driving at the time of the accident. She said she was the only juror to initially favor a guilty verdict, but ultimately the "he said, she said" nature of the testimony left too many questions.
"It was devastating, and we're devastated for the families," said the juror, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Did they switch places? We don't know. We wanted to hear from Mr. Dunn himself."
Another juror confirmed that the panel still had questions about who was driving.
Dunn did not testify. He was released immediately after the verdict was read and escorted out of the courthouse by sheriff's deputies.
Some of the victims' supporters cursed at the deputies as they were ushered out of the courtroom. "I hope somebody kills his kids," one supporter muttered, referring to Dunn.
To keep the girls' memories alive, Topi said, relatives are planning a June 14 candlelight vigil at the intersection where they were killed. While the accident occurred about 11:40 p.m. on June 13, the teens were pronounced dead the following day, according to death certificates, she said.
"I'm not going to let my two angels die in vain," Topi said. "They are going to be remembered."