Murder trials in two unrelated cases are taking place this week in the Harford County Circuit Court.
Tuesday morning, jurors in the trial of Gary Charles Clayton III, who is accused of choking a man to death during a domestic dispute in Edgewood last year, heard opening arguments from the defense and the prosecution.
A few doors down the hall, testimony continued in the trial of Mark Edmund Christian II, one of two men accused of shooting to death a man in an Aberdeen motel in 2007.
Clayton, of the 2400 block of Hanson Road in Edgewood, is charged with first-degree murder and second-degree assault in connection with an incident on Sept. 2, 2011, during which Clayton, allegedly attacked his pregnant girlfriend before choking her mother's boyfriend to death. The victim, Jamal Leon Jenkins, was 37. Clayton was 25 and has since turned 26.
According to the police report on the incident, Harford County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to the 700 block of Stanford Court in Edgewood at about 3:30 a.m. for a report of an assault. They found Mr. Jenkins in distress, and he was transported to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, where he died around 5 a.m. Clayton, who police said fled the scene, was arrested around 4 a.m. the same morning.
Assistant State's Attorney Michael B. Mathias told the jury and Circuit Court Judge Angela Eaves that Clayton was staying with his girlfriend that evening as her family prepared to leave for a trip to Ohio in the early morning hours.
When Clayton's girlfriend, who was Mr. Jenkins' fiancee's daughter, attempted to wake him up, the couple got into an argument that escalated when Clayton hit her and put her in a chokehold, Mathias said. Mr. Jenkins became involved, asking Clayton about the incident, Mathias said.
After pushing each other, Mathias said, Clayton put Mr. Jenkins in a chokehold and did not let go despite repeated pleas from other family members who were present. At one point, Mathias said, Clayton allegedly told Mr. Jenkins he would kill him.
Clayton's lawyer, Deputy Public Defender John Janowich, did not dispute that his client used a chokehold on the victim, but said Clayton reacted in self defense. During the altercation, Clayton had to make a "life or death" decision, the defense attorney added.
Janowich argued that Clayton did not attack his girlfriend; she had instead provoked him. When Mr. Jenkins approached Clayton, he was ready to "kick his ass," Janowich added.
Clayton did "nothing" despite repeated alleged punches and pushes and only reacted when Mr. Jenkins allegedly went to body slam him, Janowich continued.
While he had him in the chokehold, Clayton said he would release Mr. Jenkins, if he stopped hitting him and had no intention of killing Mr. Jenkins, Janowich said.
The defense lawyer also argued that evidence would show Mr. Jenkins had health issues with an enlarged heart and, had he been in optimal health, he would not have died.
The trial is expected to last several days.
Christian is charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery, theft of $500 or more, first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, illegal possession of a regulated firearm, carrying a handgun on his person, handgun use in a felony violent crime and two counts of armed robbery.
This incident dates to Aug. 18, 2007, when Christian, 24, along with his cousin Michael Anthony Brown, 29, allegedly shot and killed Robert Donte Hemphill, 29, during an apparent robbery, according to police statements at the time the two were charged in March 2011.
Christian's jury trial started Feb. 21 before Circuit Judge Stephen Waldron. Tuesday morning, Assistant State's Attorney David Ryden was questioning a state's witness about the crime scene and ballistics evidence.
Mr. Hemphill was found dead in his room at the Keyser Motel in the first block of South Philadelphia Boulevard and had been shot multiple times. Christian, of the 100 block of Woodland Green Way in Aberdeen, and Brown, of the 3400 block of Elmora Avenue in Baltimore, worked with Mr. Hemphill at the time, according to police statements at the time of the arrests.
After their arrests last year, detectives with the Harford County Sheriff's Office said they did not begin to suspect Christian and Brown in the Hemphill murder until 2010, when evidence came to light that led to the charges against them.
Brown's trial is scheduled to begin on March 12.
Check back with http://www.exploreharford.com for updates on these continuing stories.