Joseph Dale Harvey Jr. was fatally shot on the side of a highway in Millersville last summer because he picked the wrong man to feud with over a driving mistake, a prosecutor charged in court Monday.
The defense argued that Harvey used a racial slur, and that the other driver, Joseph Lamont Walker, shot Harvey in self defense.
Harvey may have called a racial slur and may have swerved and battled with him on the road, but he didn't deserve to die, Anne Arundel County Assistant State's Attorney Michael Dunty told jurors during his opening statements.
Using a racial slur was a bad move on Harvey's part, Dunty told jurors in Annapolis.
"I'm not asking you to like the fact that Joe used the N-word … But it is not a reason to be shot three times. One word cannot justify murder," Dunty said.
Dunty is trying to prove that Walker, an off-duty detective from New Jersey, murdered Harvey after the two engaged in a road-rage battle on June 8, 2013 that apparently began when Walker drifted into Harvey's lane during a left-hand turn.
Walker's defense team counters that Walker felt threatened by Harvey, a 300-pound man who was approaching him on the side of the road after the two had already battled while driving.
"He had only a moment to try and decide what to do. Retreating was not an option," defense attorney Charles N. Curlett Jr. said during his opening statements.
To protect his wife and children, who were inside his minivan, Walker shot Harvey, Curlett said.
"Detective Walker was defending his family and himself," he said.
The first day of the trial drew more than a dozen supporters of Harvey who filled several benches in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis. Across the courtroom, several of Walker's coworkers from the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office in New Jersey sat behind him in solidarity.
Opening statements were scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. but were pushed to the afternoon as defense attorneys and the prosecutor tangled over the jury they selected on Friday. Curlett alleged that Dunty struck potential jurors for reasons of race, which is not allowed. Ultimately, Judge Michael Wachs resolved the dispute by replacing a white male juror with an African-American female juror.
Jurors are scheduled to hear on Tuesday from a key witness in the case, Harvey's passenger, Adam Pidel. Pidel had spent the day with Harvey, including several hours of eating crabs and drinking alcohol before the incident with Walker.
The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.