Murder case against West Baltimore teen charged in officer Amy Caprio's killing hinges on burglary

The stolen Jeep Wrangler sped toward officer Amy Caprio but she didn’t budge.

The Baltimore County officer held up her hand — “Stop! Stop!” — and drew her gun. The Jeep lurched to a stop so close its hood brushed her fingers.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys said Tuesday the 29-year-old officer showed courage in the last moments of her life. That much they agree on.

They disagreed, however, on whether a West Baltimore teen burglarized two homes before he ran her over. The burglary lies at the heart of the felony murder case against 17-year-old Dawnta Harris. The attorneys made their closing arguments Tuesday, then the jury began deliberations.

The case against Harris hinges on whether the jury believes the boy burglarized two homes with his friends. Prosecutors charged him with “felony murder,” meaning a felony crime in which a death is foreseeable. For example, when a burglar breaks into a home, awakens the owner and kills him in a struggle. Prosecutors must not only prove the murder, but the burglary too.

Defense attorney Warren Brown represents Harris and does not dispute that the teen killed Caprio.

“It ain’t a matter of innocence. We know that he is responsible for her death and that’s between him and God,” Brown told the jury.

The teen from Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore ran over Caprio last May. A police officer of four years, she had been called to a suburban cul-de-sac in Perry Hall to investigate reports of a suspicious vehicle.

She had stopped the oncoming Jeep, at first. Then Harris cracked the door — as if to step out. He ducked down and pressed the gas pedal. Prosecutors played her body camera footage in court, showing jurors the grim and deadly impact. Harris is the first of four teens to stand trial for her death.

Harris and the others had skipped school and drove the stolen Jeep to the suburbs. Assistant State’s Attorney Robin Coffin described Harris as the lookout and getaway driver.

He stayed in the Jeep while the other teens broke into homes. In fact, he waited outside 42 minutes while the teens burglarized one particular home, she said.

Coffin showed the jury text messages and phone call logs between Harris and the teens inside.

“The defendant wants you to think he had no idea what’s happening,” Coffin told the jury. “To suggest that he’s not a primary actor is absurd.”

Then Brown argued that Harris was simply joyriding in a fancy car with pals. The boy didn’t know they were headed to burglarize homes in the suburbs, Brown said.

“The state says he should have gotten out. OK, maybe,” Brown told the jury. “But that doesn’t mean because he stayed in the car he was buying in to what they were doing.”

Brown too spoke of Caprio’s courage. She had stared down the oncoming Jeep, forcing Harris to stop — if only briefly.

“She put herself in the tiger’s mouth doing her job,” Brown told the jury. “Do your job. Find this boy not guilty.”

The jury is to continue deliberations tomorrow.

The judge dismissed both alternate jurors Tuesday morning. Outside the courthouse, one of them paused, just for a moment, to tell a pack of reporters, “It’s a tough case. It really is.”

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/Tim_Prudente

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