Capone Chase, 19. Named Public Enemy No. 1 on July 22, 2013. On… (Handout photo )
As the murder trial of a man Baltimore police labeled "Public Enemy No. 1" started this week, a prosecutor added a new twist to the case: Ramon Rodriguez was murdered, she said, because his killer had discovered he was helping police with an investigation.
When authorities named Capone Chase as their most-wanted fugitive in July 2013, they made no mention that his victim was a police informant. They focused instead on the brutal details of the crime: The 21-year-old Rodriguez on his knees, shot through the head at a Greektown playground.
But Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Stock told a judge Wednesday that details of Rodriguez's involvement with police would be important in the case because they helped corroborate the account of a key witness: the victim's girlfriend, who told officers she watched the killing unfold.
"We have papers with your name on it," she heard Chase tell Rodriguez, according to Stock. "We know you snitched."
As police investigated the killing, Stock said, detectives confirmed that Rodriguez had been interviewed by officers working on another case, and that he was named in police documents.
The prosecutor opened the trial Wednesday by outlining the girlfriend's account of the killing for the jury. Chase's lawyer told the jury that the girlfriend was not a credible witness.
Stock said Rodriguez and his girlfriend had been planning to go to Dave & Buster's restaurant at Arundel Mills on the evening of July 13 when Rodriguez got a call from Chase asking to meet at the park.
The couple arrived at the park, an unlit oblong of green behind railway tracks a few blocks north of Eastern Avenue, about 11 p.m.
Chase was accompanied by another man, Stock said, and the conversation quickly became heated.
The girlfriend watched Chase and the other man draw guns, Stock told the jury. Rodriguez begged them to leave her out of it.
Chase shot Rodriguez on the rubber flooring of a children's play area, Stock said. She said the second man, whom the girlfriend could not identify, urged Chase to kill the girlfriend as well.
"Kill her, kill her," he said, according to the prosecutor. "Shoot her, shoot her."
But Chase spared her life, Stock said. He told her to count to 100 before moving, Stock said, and warned that if she spoke with police they would return for her, too.
The girlfriend cradled Rodriguez's head in her lap and called 911.
By the time medics and police arrived, the park was empty, an officer testified Thursday. They found only Rodriguez's lifeless body with blood pooling around his head and coating his upper body.
The courtroom fell silent as Chase's lawyer showed the jury photographs of Rodriguez's body. Some jurors leaned in for a closer look; one appeared to be fighting back tears.
Stock said the girlfriend initially did as she was ordered: She told police she arrived after Rodriguez was shot. But in the safety of police headquarters, the woman identified Chase, whom she said she knew, as the killer.
A week after the killing, a police major returned to the park to tell reporters that Chase was the department's most-wanted fugitive and to urge people to come forward with tips so he could be arrested. Chase was taken into custody a few days later.
The second man has not been arrested. It was unclear whether police have any suspects.
Chase was the second of five people Baltimore police have tagged "Public Enemy No. 1." All have been arrested; the four others are awaiting trial on murder or attempted-murder charges.
Chase had been released from jail just a few days before Rodriguez's death. He had pleaded guilty to assault in a robbery case and receiving a suspended sentence.
Former prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, who challenged State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein in the Democratic primary this year, used that detail to portray the incumbent as soft on the most dangerous criminals. She won and is now the party's nominee for state's attorney in the November election.
Chase sat placidly in the ornate marble-walled courtroom Thursday, facing the jury, wearing khakis and a buttoned-up shirt.
His lawyer told the jury that the prosecutors' case hinged almost completely on the girlfriend's testimony. And she could not be trusted, attorney Phillip C. Levin said, because she first told police she did not see what happened.
"There's only one witness, who is a liar," Levin said.