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Key witness in Edgewood fatal shooting admits changing story

Testimony under way in first degree murder trial of Garfield Smith III

BY KRISHANA DAVIS, kdavis@baltsun.com

2:34 AM EST, January 28, 2014

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A third person who accompanied two young men who were shot, one fatally, on a marijuana buying trip to an Edgewood park last January admitted Monday afternoon that he had changed his account of what happened in the hours following the shootings.

Jevontay Singleton testified in the second day of the murder trial of Garfield Smith III in Harford County Circuit Court in Bel Air. Judge Stephen Waldron is presiding at the jury trial.

Smith, 22, of the 1600 block of Candlewood Court in Edgewood, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault and six firearm charges from the Jan. 21, 2013 shooting that left Michael Wayne Kearins, 17, dead and Christopher Thomas Cousins, 19, seriously wounded.

According to prosecutors, Kearins, Cousins and Singleton, who was 18, entered Cunion Recreation Park off Hanson Road to buy marijuana from a dealer. Another person, whom police and prosecutors say was Smith, confronted the group and fired shots around 10:30 p.m. hitting both Kearins and Cousins. Kearins was later pronounced dead at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.

Under questioning from Howard Greenberg, one of Smith's public defenders, Singleton said that following the shooting of Kearins and Cousins, he went to Smith's Candlewood Court residence because the marijuana dealer, whom he identified as Christopher "Chip" Hicks, had taken him hostage at gunpoint.

Greenberg, however, noted that in interviews with police, both on the day following the shooting and four days later, Singleton did not mention Hicks had a gun or had held him hostage.

Greenberg also inquired about the Singleton's relationship with the two victims. Singleton said he knew Kearins and Cousins from the alternative education school in Aberdeen, where they all once attended. He agreed with Greenberg that he and Kearins were close and Singleton had often acted "like an older brother" to the dead teenager.

The witness, who wore blue jeans and a black Polo sweater and slouched in the chair while testifying, said he also knew Smith through the defendant's brother and said that they were "cool" and would "talk outside."

Greenberg also referred to the interview Singleton gave police following the shooting, where he said he could not identify the shooter at the park until later, when he had ended up at Smith's residence on Candlewood Court with Smith and Hicks.

Singleton said the shooter was wearing a scarf, that covered his face and nose, a baseball cap and a hood.

Greenberg also questioned Singleton about erasing the contact number and text messages from Hicks following the shooting.

"I always delete my messages because I have an old phone; because my phone can't handle it," Singleton said.

Singleton was briefly detained in jail last week after he failed to show up for a pretrial hearing in this case, which his lawyer said was not deliberate, and was also held because of a violation of probation charge in an unrelated case.

Prior to court beginning Friday, Singleton came before Waldron, who agreed to release him from the circuit court detainer provided Smith was outfitted with a GPS ankle monitor by parole and probation. That afternoon, District Court Judge David Carey released Singleton from jail on his own recognizance on the probation violation, ordering him to report to his probation officer in Catonsville to get the GPS monitor.

Medical examiner testifies

During the trial's morning session Monday, Dr. Ling Li, an assistant state medical examiner was extensively questioned about her autopsy of Kearins and victim toxicology reports in general.

Li said Kearins was shot twice. The first bullet was a "pass through," she explained, entering through the left upper chest and exiting in the middle of Kearins back after going through several layers of soft tissue including his lung and aorta. She said the second bullet struck one of Kearins ribs in the back.

Michael Ambridge, an assistant public defender who is also representing Smith, questioned Li about close range shooting, which is considered a range of two feet or less.

Li said while close range shooting normally causes gun residue to linger on any clothing or items within range of the shooting, the medical examiner's office "couldn't find any obvious powder particles on [Kearins' clothing]."

She said because the victim was wearing dark colored clothing, the gun residue may have been absorbed by the fabric.

Ambridge also questioned Li about routine toxicology test performed on deceased individuals, specifically "spice" the common name for a synthetic drug with marijuana-like side effects, and marijuana, which prosecutors say the group went to Cunion Recreational Park to purchase.

Li said of the 100 different medications and drugs, including alcohol, the medical examiner's lab tests for, marijuana and spice are not routinely included. She said Kearins was not tested for either drug during his autopsy.

"We do not believe people can overdose or kill themselves by marijuana or spice," Li said.

Ambridge asked Li about the effect marijuana or spice can have on the perception, behavior of a person under the influence.

"It's hard to say or answer about how drugs might impact perception of behavior," Li told the court. "It depends on the amount of drugs taken, the length of time the person has been using the drug, and reactions to the drugs differ between different people."

During much of the medical examiner's testimony, one of the youngest male jurors stared off into the distance appearing to disregard most of the testimony. Other jurors took furious notes on brown clipboards, while a few sat in the jury box with their arms folded.

The 16-member jury, 12 jurors and four alternates, includes nine men and seven women. One male member is black; the rest are white. The defendant and both victims are black.

The trial was in recess Tuesday. Testimony is due to resume Wednesday.