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Jury deliberating in Anne Arundel road-rage murder trial

HomicideTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemRacism

Jurors are set to resume deliberations Wednesday in the case of a New Jersey police officer accused of shooting a man to death last summer on the side of a Millersville highway.

Joseph Lamont Walker, 41, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 36-year-old Joseph Dale Harvey Jr. on Route 3.

Walker was driving home from a birthday party for a nephew last June when his car drifted into Harvey's lane. Harvey shouted and swerved toward Walker's car, and both men pulled over.

The trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court has been watched closely by friends and relatives of Harvey, a truck driver who had recently bought a house in Lansdowne, and supporters of Walker, a detective with the Hudson County prosecutor's office in New Jersey.

Local attorneys, courthouse volunteers and witnesses filled the benches of the courtroom Tuesday to hear closing arguments.

Over nearly three hours, prosecution and defense lawyers offered the jury their views on events that led Walker, who was off-duty, to shoot Harvey three times.

Prosecutor Michael Dunty said Harvey swore at Walker, swerved his car at him and used a racial slur. But he said Harvey didn't pose a threat great enough to justify Walker firing his gun at him three times.

Dunty began his argument by walking from the judge's bench to the back of the courtroom, back to the bench and then again to the rear wall. He said the distance represented the 156 feet Harvey traveled as he approached Walker on the side of the road.

Defense attorneys have said Walker made a split-second decision to point his gun and shoot. But Dunty said walking that distance took time, and said Walker's reactions were "not split-second decisions. They were calculated decisions."

Dunty said Walker was "armed with anger and arrogance and suffering from a bruised ego," and was intent on settling a score with Harvey.

Defense attorney Charles N. Curlett Jr. said Walker drifted into Harvey's lane, and he and his family found themselves "suddenly and inexplicably under attack."

He said Walker tried to defuse the situation by flashing his badge and ordering Harvey to move on, but Harvey continued the encounter, trying to run the van off the road.

Once both vehicles were on the side of the road, the defense attorney said, Walker put himself between Harvey and his family to protect them. Curlett said Walker didn't shoot the passenger in Harvey's car, Adam Pidel, because he stopped after leaving the vehicle.

But he did shoot Harvey, Curlett said, because he kept approaching and was "within striking distance."

Jurors are being asked to issue verdicts on five counts: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, using a handgun during a felony and using a handgun during a violent crime.

Judge Michael Wachs spent about 30 minutes explaining legal details to jurors, including an option to find Walker guilty of voluntary manslaughter if they believe he was acting in self-defense but feel his fear of danger was not reasonable — or if his actions were more than needed to stop the threat facing him.

Jurors deliberated for several hours Tuesday before adjourning for the night without a verdict.

Joseph Solee, an alternate juror who was dismissed after closing arguments, said he leaned toward believing Walker's argument for self-defense. But he said he would have reviewed Wachs' instructions and listened to the other jurors before deciding.

pwood@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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