Nearly a year after the incident, the trial of an Edgewood man accused of a 2013 double shooting that left a 17-year-old boy dead and a now-19-year-old man seriously wounded began Friday in the Harford County Courthouse in downtown Bel Air.
Garfield Smith III, 22, of the 1600 block of Candlewood Court, appeared for trial with his attorneys Howard Greenberg and Michael Ambridge of the Office of the Public Defender.
Assistant State's Attorneys David Ryden and Trenna Manners appeared for the prosecution and Circuit Court Judge Stephen M. Waldron presided.
Ryden said the trial is scheduled to continue Monday and end by Feb. 4 at the latest.
The opening took place in a large second-floor courtroom in the historic Harford County Courthouse. Portraits of former Harford County judges and other notable residents adorned the walls of the ornate courtroom.
Smith, who was wearing a dark suit, striped tie and black, thick-framed glasses, sat with his attorneys on one end of an oval-shaped wooden table and the prosecutors sat on the other end.
The 12 jurors and four alternates were sworn in Friday; the 16 members included seven women and nine men. One man was black; the rest of the members of the jury were white.
Waldron informed the members of the jury of their duties and instructed them not to discuss the case outside the courtroom, even with each other. He also told them to avoid any media reports about the trial while it was taking place and to not make any comments about the case on social media sites.
Waldron stressed to the jury members that they decide the case, not the judge.
"You decide the case, but decide the case based on evidence," he said.
Waldron also told members of the jury not to conduct outside research on any facts presented during the trial.
"You must base your decision on evidence presented in this courtroom," the judge said.
Ryden gave opening statements for the prosecution and Greenberg made the opening statement for the defense.
Opening statements were followed by testimony from two Harford County Sheriff's deputies who responded to the shooting, aided the victims and collected the first pieces of evidence.
Smith has been in the Harford County Detention Center since Feb. 5, 2013, when he was arrested and charged with the first-degree murder of Michael Wayne Kearins, 17, of the 1900 block of Harewood Road in Edgewood, and the attempted first-degree murder of Christopher Thomas Cousins, who was listed as having the same address as Mr. Kearins.
He has also been charged with two counts of first-degree assault and six firearms-related offenses.
The double shooting took place the night of Jan. 31, 2013, at Cunion Field in Edgewood Recreational Park off Trimble Road.
Smith's Candlewood Court residence is part of a cluster of homes adjacent to the park, separated by a fence.
Cousins and Mr. Kearins, plus their associate Jevontay Singleton, 18, of Baltimore County, went to the park to purchase marijuana from a local drug dealer.
Ryden told the jurors during his opening statement that the shooter, whom witnesses and informants identified as Smith, approached the group during the drug deal and shot Cousins and Mr. Kearins.
The shooter was dressed in dark clothing and wore a mask; each victim was shot twice.
Singleton fled the scene with the dealer and the shooter who headed back to Candlewood Court, Ryden said.
Ryden said Singleton recognized Smith after he took off his mask at the residence.
Singleton also in court
Singleton appeared before Waldron Friday as well for a hearing that preceded the trial opening.
He wore a black and white-striped county jail uniform and was shackled; two deputies wearing large tactical vests stood next to him as he sat with his lawyer on the defense side of the table.
He had been charged with failure to appear after he did not show up for pre-trial proceedings in the Smith case earlier this week.
Ryden said Singleton had mixed up the days he was scheduled to come to court, and told the judge he felt "comfortable" his key witness would be there when Smith's trial continues Monday.
Waldron agreed to release Singleton from the bench warrant that had been issued for his arrest and ordered him to wear a GPS monitoring device.
Waldron told Singleton to arrive for court Monday "unless Mr. Ryden tells you to the contrary."
Prosecutors contended that Smith shot Cousins and Mr. Kearins because he suspected Mr. Kearins was associated with a group of people who shot up his residence Jan. 21, a week and a half before the shootings in the park.
The alleged murder weapon, a handgun with a laser sight, was recovered from one of Smith's associates who buried it in his yard after taking it off Smith's hands, according to prosecutors.
Ryden told the jury that they would hear from witnesses who are facing their own criminal charges and cooperated with investigators and led them to Smith – one man involved in a drug case agreed to a plea deal in exchange for his testimony.
He said the jury would also hear from Maryland State Police ballistics and DNA analysts.
He acknowledged that the alleged murder weapon contained "mixed samples" of DNA, including samples of the defendant's DNA, but the state's analyst could not make a conclusive determination of who the shooter was based on the DNA.
Greenberg also laid out the facts of the case to the jury, writing key dates and the name of each key person, from victim to the accused to law enforcement officers to prosecution witnesses, on an easel he set up in front of the jury.
He acknowledged relatives of the victims who were in the courtroom Friday and said "our hearts go out" to them.
Greenberg told jury members they should pay close attention to the prosecution's timeline for the case, which started with the Jan. 21 shooting of Smith's house that they allege prompted him to attack the victims.
He also stressed that jurors must determine how reliable the prosecution's witnesses are, including Singleton.
"I ask you to keep a sceptical thinking cap on when you are listening to these witnesses," Greenberg said.
First responders testify
Dfc. Matt Schueler and Dfc. Michael Wilsynski were among the first deputies who responded to two 911 calls around 10:30 p.m. on the cold winter night of Jan. 31.
The second call came from Cousins, who told the dispatcher he had been shot.
They testified separately, but both deputies noted the first caller reported "shots fired" in the area of Candlewood Court. Law enforcement officers responded in that direction first, then made their way to the park in response to Cousins' call.
Both deputies said they found Mr. Kearins on the ground, unresponsive with no vital signs, and Cousins in agony from his wounds.
Mr. Kearins was taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, where he was pronounced dead; Cousins was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore for treatment.
Schueler said Friday he found Cousins on the ground "screaming for help."
He began to provide First Aid to the young man and found what appeared to be a gunshot wound to his lower left abdomen, above his hip.
Schueler said he cut away the several layers of clothing Cousins was wearing and discovered a bullet, one of three recovered during the investigation, between his skin and clothing.
The deputy secured the bullet in one of the medical gloves he was wearing and gave it to a detective at the scene.
Wilsynski testified about his initial questioning of Cousins, first when he encountered him on the ground and later in an ambulance.
The deputy noted Cousins could not, at that time, provide a coherent description of who the shooter was.
"He was complaining more of his pain and suffering at that point," Wilsynski recalled.
He added: "He was conscious but the information I got was very vague."
He said Cousins mentioned three people and the names "Jevontay" and "Tay," although he was not clear on who the shooter was.
Tay is Singleton's nickname, according to prosecutors.
Wilsynski could not determine from Cousins' statements whether "Jevontay" or "Tay" was the shooter, part of the shooter's group or part of the victims' group.