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Jurors weigh Owings Mills murder case

Six weeks after Scott M. Greenberg was found shot to death in his parents' house in Owings Mills in August, 2009, police arrested Gerald E. Sears and charged him with murder, robbery and drug-dealing.

Police never found the murder weapon, or the wallet, bank card and cell phone they claim Sears took from Greenberg. Nor did they find Sears' fingerprints or DNA in the house.

What they did get were cell phone records, Sears' admission that he'd been in the house to sell crack cocaine, and no sign the house on Velvet Valley Way had been ransacked by a burglar.

Prosecutors argued before a jury in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Thursday that there's enough evidence to convict Sears, 31. But a defense lawyer emphasized the lack of physical evidence, calling the state's case "smoke and mirrors."

After hearing a week of testimony from 18 prosecution witnesses and none for the defense, the jury heard closing arguments and began deliberations. Charged with five counts, including first-degree murder, Sears, who was living in Owings Mills at the time of the killing, faces life in prison without parole.

"This is a case of a drug addict killed by his drug dealer," Assistant State's Attorney Adam Lippe told the jury. In an hour-long closing argument, Lippe said Greenberg, who was 51 years old, separated from his wife and had two young children, "ruined his life. The defendant took it away."

His review of the case portrayed Sears as a man who was working two jobs and selling crack, but having trouble paying bills. He argued that Sears was angry with Greenberg for not paying him.

"Sears killed Greenberg while he was robbing him because he didn't pay," Lippe said. "It's all about money and disrespect."

The prosecution built its case largely on cell phone records. They showed many calls between Sears and Greenberg, and investigators tracked the movement of the phone as calls shifted from one transmission tower to another.

Lippe and Assistant State's Attorney William Bickel told the jury that records show Sears making 166 calls to Greenberg in a 23-day period, and nine calls in five minutes on the afternoon of the killing, Aug. 22. Prosecutors said Sears was calling for directions to the house, and the calls stopped when he arrived at 1:46 p.m. Prosecutors argued that cell phone records show Sears leaving the house 12 minutes after the last call.

The state's deputy chief medical examiner, Dr. Jack Titus, who performed the autopsy on Greenberg before dawn on Aug. 23, testified on Wednesday that the time of death in a case like this can only be estimated. He said he could not rule out the possibility that Greenberg died around the time the prosecutors claim Sears was in the house.

The records show no more calls on Greenberg's phone after the time prosecutors said Sears arrived.

Sears' lawyer Kay A. Beehler of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender argued that the state had no basis for a conviction.

"Smoke and mirrors, that's what you've been treated to for eight days," Beehler told the jury. She showed a picture of the house's back door, which she said was damaged by a burglar's forced entry, and emphasized the lack of physical evidence.

"They don't have evidence because Gerald did not do this," she said.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com.

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