A Harford County man let out a sigh of relief in the circuit courthouse Thursday afternoon after being cleared of all charges in a 2013 Edgewood murder.
Garfield Smith III, 22, faced charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, attempted first-degree assault, attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, use of a handgun to commit a violent crime and wear, carry or transport of a handgun with the intent to injure in connection with a shooting that killed Michael Kearins, 17, and injured Christopher Cousins, 19.
Three of the charges, including second-degree assault and firearm related charges, were dropped by prosecutors during the trial.
As the jury forewoman read the verdict to the packed courtroom, one woman, an associate of the victims of the murder-shooting, yelled and stormed out of the courtroom.
"Thank you, Jesus," Smith said after hearing the verdict.
Following the verdict, Smith, who was defended by public defenders Howard Greenberg and Michael Ambridge during the intense, two-week trial, stood up and hugged one of the lawyers.
"That's why you're a good lawyer," Smith said to Greenberg.
Smith was on trial for Jan. 31, 2013 murder and shooting in Edgewood's Cunion Park following a marijuana deal.
Kearins and Cousins allegedly went to Cunion Park to buy marijuana; there was some sort of confrontation and the two men were shot around 10:30 p.m.
Kearins was taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, where he was pronounced dead, and Cousins was taken by medevac to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
Smith was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs with a huge smile plastered across his face.
He will not freed immediately. Greenberg said he violated probation in Pennsylvania when he was arrested for the Jan. 31, 2013 murder- shooting in Edgewood.
Assistant State's Attorney Trenna Manners, who prosecuted the case with Assistant State's Attorney David Ryden, declined to comment following the not guilty verdict.
Ambridge said he believes the jury reached the proper verdict following the evidence presented by the state and the defense. While he said the outcome of a jury trial can never be predicted, the defense remained optimistic throughout the trial.
According to Ambridge, the objective evidence, lack of DNA, strong defense and weak motive presented by the Harford State's Attorney's Office helped to clear Smith of the charges.
Greenberg, Smith's other public defender, said every witness the state called in the case, essentially became a witness for the defense.
Greenberg also said the state's motive was weak. According to the state prosecutors, Smith's motive was revenge after his brother's residence in the 1600 block of Candlewood Court was shot up on Jan. 21, 2013 while Smith and a female friend were inside.
"The state's motive was proven to be defective," Greenberg said. "They tried to say it was retaliatory, but none of the victims in this case were involved in the previous shooting."
Smith, who is black, was tried by 12 jurors, seven men and five women. One juror, a man, was black.
"I'm glad there was some representation," Ambridge said of the jury selection.
The final day of the trial
Following a lengthy day of testimony and jury deliberation instructions, Manners approached the jurors to give her closing arguments around 4:17 p.m. on Wednesday.
Manners spoke softly, first showing a smiling photo of an unnamed woman seated next to a lively smiling Mr. Kearins, 17, who was shot and killed. Then, Manners swapped out the photo for Kearins' autopsy photo, drawing gasps and tears from people seated the courtroom.
"Michael Kearins will never be one day older than 17," Manners said.
In her arguments, Manners referred to what prosecutors said was the motive for the Cunion Park shooting: revenge from a previous incident on Jan. 21, when a home in the 1600 block of Candlewood Court was shot up with Smith and a female friend inside.
"Testimony about whether Smith was a legal resident of Candlewood Court is not relevant," Manners said."He was the target there."
Manners said Smith's identification card and clothing were found at the residence and the Cunion Park shooting was the defendant "going to handle it himself," rather than cooperating with the police to investigate the house shooting. She said Smith had 10 days to figure out how he would handle the Candlewood Court shooting.
"Any normal person would have been banging on the detective's door," Manners said.
According to Manners, Smith was the only person with a motive in the case. She said Jevontay Singleton, 18, who walked to Cunion Park along with Mr. Kearins and Cousins, the surviving victim of the shooting, had no motive and neither did the drug dealer Christopher "Chip" Hicks, whom the trio were buying a dime bag of drugs from.
"Chip didn't have any motive in this," Manners said. "It would have been bad business."
Manners reminded the jurors that the murder weapon used in the shooting, a Ruger SP101 with a red laser pointer, could not be positively matched to Smith, only because he wiped it down.
The prosecutor said that Smith and Hicks would not walk such a great distance in the "frosty, frigid" winter temperatures, "if it were just a marijuana deal."
During his closing statements, Greenberg, representing Smith, recapped all of the evidence presented in the trial.
Greenberg charted out for the jurors a list of "objective, credible, evidence" on a large white notepad for the jurors to show the state had not fully proven a case against his client.
The DNA evidence, autopsy report, murder weapon, testimony from Cousins, as well as testimony from Cousins, Cpl. J.M. Hoppa, of the K-9 unit of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, and Singleton, who set up the marijuana deal at Cunion Park and went with Mr. Kearins and Cousins buy the dime bag, were all called into question by Greenberg.
He questioned the method investigators used to receive the murder weapon and the effort by the detectives in the case to investigate other possible suspects.
The person who led detectives to the murder weapon, James E. Bryant, was facing several drug-related charges and used the weapon "as an insurance policy," Greenberg told the jury.
Greenberg also mentioned Cousins' testimony that he was not sure who shot at Kearins in Cunion Park and was unable to get a good look at the suspect. He said this is the "linchpin" of the case.
"Cousins said [Jevontay Singleton] may have been the shooter, but he didn't know," Greenberg said.
Greenberg questioned Singleton's credibility, since his story changed a number of times from his first interview with detectives following the murder, second interview and testimony before the jury.
While the state wished to prove a motive between the shooting on Candlewood Court and the shooting and murder in Cunion Park, Greenberg said, "they don't have a clue who the target was of the shooting," since Smith did not list Candlewood Court as his address.