Jurors are expected to resume deliberation Wednesday in the case of two brothers accused of carrying out the contract killing of a mentally disabled man on behalf of a Baltimore pastor who planned to cash in $1.4 million in fraudulent insurance policies.
James Omar Clea III, 33, and Kareem Jamal Clea, 28, are charged with conspiracy in the murder of a 37-year-old group home resident who was shot in the head and left for dead in a Leakin Park bathroom more than 21/2 years ago.
Kareem is also charged with pulling the trigger. James is accused of working as the middleman between his brother and the pastor, Kevin Pushia, a former employee of the Arc of Baltimore, which works with developmentally disabled people.
Pushia pleaded guilty to his role in August, admitting that he took out more than a half-dozen life insurance policies on the victim, Lemuel Wallace, and that he paid the shooter $50,000 in church funds left over from a fire that destroyed the building. He also implicated the Clea brothers as his accomplices, making him the prosecution's star witness during the trial, which began with preliminary hearings more than two weeks ago.
The proceeding was supposed to last three days, but was held up by an earthquake, which closed the courthouse and forced the judge to start jury selection anew; Hurricane Irene, which cut power; the Labor Day holiday and the lengthy testimony of Pushia. He spent three days on the witness stand and was described as "despicable" by attorneys on both sides.
He is a "true sociopath, willing to do one of the most evil acts known to man for money," Assistant State's Attorney Robin Wherley told the jury during closing statements Tuesday, shortly before the jury began discussions about 2:15 p.m.
Her case largely hinges on whether jurors believe Pushia's version of the crime, however. He often contradicted himself on the stand, but pieced together a scenario that lays blame on the Cleas.
"He is a liar, end of story," said Kareem Clea's defense attorney, James Gitomer. He said Pushia was trying to shift some responsibility for Wallace's murder toward the Cleas, in the hopes he would get a lighter sentence.
The pastor faces a maximum of life in prison plus 105 years at his October sentencing; he was convicted of conspiring to commit murder along with seven counts of insurance fraud.
Gitomer described Pushia as a con artist and the police investigation as "sloppy" — sentiments that were seconded by James Clea's attorney, Lawrence Rosenberg. He described Pushia, who had a sexual relationship with his client, as worse than serial killer Son of Sam.
Pushia "preyed on all the people he came into contact with," Rosenberg said.
Wherley admitted that the lead detective in the case "doesn't add a whole lot" to solving the crime and she conceded that Pushia doesn't deserve "complete trust." But she urged the jury to look beyond flaws in the investigation and inconsistencies in Pushia's testimony.
Bank withdrawals, insurance policies and phone records support some of Pushia's statements, as do certain witness accounts.
"It's not just [Pushia's] word," Wherley said.