Testimony from detectives and deputies, who investigated reports of shots being fired at a house, which prosecutors say was the motive for a 2013 Edgewood deadly shooting 10 days later – leaving one dead and another fighting for his life – reveal the defendant did not reside at the address.
The defendant, Garfield Smith III, 22, is charged with first-degree murder and related crimes in the Jan. 31, 2013 shooting death of Michael Wayne Kearins, 17, and the wounding of Christopher Cousins, 19.
Deputy Roland Gittings, of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, was called to the witness stand Tuesday afternoon by prosecutors.
Gittings, a 12-year veteran of the force, said he responded to "shots fired," at a home in the 1600 block of Candlewood Court on Jan. 21, 2013, which was 10 days before the murder, shooting in Cunion Park. He said he was the first officer on the scene.
"I saw the house was shot up," Gittings said. "There were bullet holes through the windows on the first and second floor."
Gittings said he counted 11 bullets: eight on the first floor and three on the second floor. The officer testified that two people were in the residence when he got there, Smith and another witness, Shaquae Edwards.
"[Smith] said it was his brother's house, but said his brother wasn't there," Gittings told the jury during his testimony.
Gittings said he took down the information for all victims involved in the shooting: Smith, Edwards and Steven Dorsey, Smith's brother, who leases the residence and came shortly after officers arrived on the scene.
During cross-examination, Howard Greenberg, defense attorney for Smith, questioned the officer about the addresses listed for the victims of the house shooting. Gittings said while Dorsey's address was listed in the 1600 block of Candlewood Court, Smith listed his address in the 500 block of Magnolia Ridge Dr. in Joppa.
Another officer with the Harford County Sheriff's Office, Det. John Aksomitus testified that during the investigation of the house shooting, Smith said he believed Alton Cumbo was the person responsible for shooting at the residence.
Smith said Cumbo "made death threats against him for being disrespectful," Aksomitus testified.
Prosecutors called Deputy Andrew Sampson, who patrols the southern district for the Sheriff's Office, to the stand.
Sampson said that minutes after the Jan. 21, 2013 house shooting, he stopped four individuals on the street who matched a description given by dispatchers as the possible shooters.
The four suspects were Alton Cumbo, Donald Williams, Devontae Perry and Antony Powell. Sampson said he did not know at the time that Smith had named Cumbo as a possible suspect.
Cumbo was found wearing a Miami Heat snow hat with a red ball on top, Sampson said.
Sampson said he took down the names, ages, addresses and other pertinent information from the suspects and let them go. He said he stopped Cumbo again minutes later when he learned Smith had named him as a possible suspect, but eventually let him go.
The deputy said he did not arrest Cumbo or any of the other suspects in the house shooting.
DNA evidence not a match
DNA found on a pistol that police say was used to commit a 2013 Edgewood murder could not be conclusively matched to the man who is on trial for the crime, a State Police Crime Laboratory expert testified Monday.
Although she did find what she termed a "major" DNA contributor on the weapon's grip and elsewhere on the exterior, the DNA did not match samples taken from Garfield Smith III, Tiffany Keener, a forensic scientist at the State Police lab in Pikesville said.
Smith, 22, is charged with first degree murder and related crimes in the Jan. 31, 2013 shooting death of Michael Wayne Kearins, 17, and the wounding of a second man.
Keener was allowed to testify about DNA tests she ran on the murder weapon, after Smith's lawyers and prosecutors reached an accommodation on what parts of her report could be admitted into evidence, following a meeting with Judge Stephen Waldron in his chambers Monday morning.
The two sides argued Friday about the admissibility of the evidence, with the defense calling it "irrelevant" since Smith's DNA could not be positively identified on the weapon. Assistant State's Attorney Trenna Manners, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant State's Attorney David Ryden, said the report should be admitted, regardless, because recent court rulings in Maryland have allowed the state to use DNA evidence, even if has not established a positive match to the accused.
Prior to testimony resuming, both sides agreed with the judge's request that they direct their questioning so the jury would understand the report's findings could not be imputed to conclude samples of DNA found on the gun could "include or exclude" Smith's.
Keener said there was not enough measurable DNA on the trigger and inner barrel of the weapon, a Ruger pistol with a laser sight.
Tests run on the grip and exterior established there was a "major DNA contributor," she said; however, neither Smith's sample or a sample she was provided from a second man, James Edward Bryant, matched the major amounts of DNA in both places and were thus "excluded."
She also said minor amounts of DNA were found on the grip and interior of the barrel that were not sufficient to match them to either sample.
Police recovered the gun from Bryant, who testified last week and who had told them he received the weapon following the shooting and had buried it.
Both Manners and public defender Michael Ambridge, one of Smith's lawyers, asked how DNA gets on something like a gun – mainly from skin cells, she said – and how it might be removed – wiping, exposure to heat or moisture, were two examples she gave.
Ambridge also asked Keener if she had been given any other samples besides Smith's and Bryant's DNA to try to match with the major amounts of DNA. She replied she had not.
"It is your only conclusion...there was a major contributor [of DNA] on the grip and the left and right side and Mr. Smith and Mr. Bryant are excluded," Ambridge asked Keener in his final question for the witness.
"Correct," she replied.
Because of the weather, Waldron adjourned court following Keener's testimony that ended just before noon.
Lead investigator testifies
The lead police investigator in the case spent almost three hours on the stand Friday, the only witness heard on what was the first anniversary of the fatal shooting.
Under direct examination by Manners, Detective Brian Potts of the Harford County Sheriff's Office's major case squad, talked about evidence recovery, including the pistol and bullets removed from Mr. Kearins and Cousins, and how he and other investigators eliminated other suspects before charging Smith with the fatal shooting.
Potts testified he was called to Cunion Recreation Park in Edgewood shortly after the shooting. Investigators did not find any shell casings at the scene, he said, but later received the three projectiles extracted from the victims, which were sent to the State Police lab for testing.
Potts also said that once the gun was recovered from Bryant, mouth swabs were taken from both Smith and Bryant for DNA purposes and were sent to the crime lab to see if there was a match to DNA found on the weapon.
When asked why swabs were taken from Bryant, Potts replied, "He advised us he had touched the gun."
The direct examination also touched on the two interviews Potts had with Jevontay Singleton, an eyewitness who identified Smith as the shooter in testimony he gave earlier in the week.
During his first interview with Singleton on Feb. 1, 2013, the morning after the shooting, he believed Singleton's "story wasn't right," Potts testified.
In a follow up interview on Feb. 5, however, Potts said, Singleton admitted running away from the shooting with the alleged assailant and with the drug dealer, who has been identified as Christopher "Chip" Hicks, to a house on Candlewood Court, where he testified he saw Smith remove a scarf that had covered the lower half of his face at the shooting.
Potts said the story Singleton told in the second interview "was consistent with other interviews."
He also testified there had been concerns expressed by Singleton about his safety and that after detectives had made inquiries out in the neighborhood, Singleton, who in court records has addresses in Baltimore County and Baltimore City, was "placed outside the home."
Under cross examination by public defender Howard Greenberg, Smith's other lawyer, Potts was asked in great detail about how he came to conclude that Singleton was not involved in the crime and was merely an innocent bystander.
Potts said Singleton's initial claim that he ran in a different direction from Hicks and the assailant was "unbelievable."
Police had interviewed Cousins and Hicks prior to the second interview and had also received triangulation data, or tower "pings," on Singleton's phone that indicated Singleton had run toward Candlewood Court, Potts said.
In the second interview, Singleton's story shifted to the point that it "lined up" with what they had learned from other witnesses, the detective said. As a result, Potts said, he also believed Singleton's story that Singleton had merely arranged with Hicks for Mr. Kearins and Cousins to buy $10 worth of marijuana at the park, had accompanied them and then ran away in fear after the shooting.
The detective responded in the affirmative when he was asked if there are no plans to charge either Hicks or Singleton in connection with the shooting.
"So you made a judgment Jevontay Singleton was not involved?" Greenberg asked, to which Manners quickly objected. Waldron told him to answer.
"That is correct," Potts said.
The detective also confirmed police did not take DNA swabs from either Singleton or Hicks, nor had they tried to extract DNA from clothing they found at the Candlewood Court house where Singleton said he, Hicks and Smith had gone following the shooting.
Potts said they also did not attempt to positively match the mud on some of the clothing with mud in the park where the shooting occurred. He also said no gun was found at the residence.
Greenberg, who at one point commented the gun had fallen into the laps of the police, also asked Potts if investigators attempted to learn who Mr. Kearins might have been "beefing with?"
The detective explained he was given two names "Pac Man" and "Top." He could not find a "Pac Man" in their databases and while he did find several "Tops," he said he couldn't establish any connection.
In their opening arguments, the prosecutors told the jury the shooting of Mr. Kearins and Cousins was likely in retaliation for an incident 10 days earlier, on Jan. 21, 2013, during which shots were fired at the home at 1602 Candlewood Court, where Smith had been living.
Potts said police established the house was leased to a Stephen Calhoun Dorsey. He said he was not aware if a report was taken from Dorsey following the Jan. 21 incident, nor did it appear the house had been placed under surveillance.
Potts said they tried to interview Dorsey after the fatal shooting but he "didn't want to talk." He also said Dorsey's phone records, as well as those of Smith, had been obtained by investigators, which appeared to come as a surprise to the defense lawyer.
On redirect, Manners took Potts back through the interview process with Singleton, getting him to explain again how after being fed what she called "half-truths" in the first interview, the detective concluded Singleton gave him a straight story in the second.
"The information lined up with the others…the majority of what he told us in the second interview was the truth," Potts answered.
When Greenberg's turn came, he asked if the "truth" meant that Singleton's story had conformed to those of Hicks and Cousins, "who were blaming my client."
Potts said both were "witnesses" at the scene and by "lined up," he meant both Hicks and Cousins had been clear on the direction in which Singleton had fled.
When Greenberg then asked Potts if "details thereafter" were based upon information furnished by Hicks, Potts replied they were "in partial ways."
"In critical ways?" the defense lawyer asked.
"Yes," Potts replied.