Fearful of criminals loitering at night, the two young women parked their car in a fire lane outside the store's front door and left the motor running while one went inside for groceries.
"We noticed the parking lot was dark, and we wanted to be safe," the woman who had remained in the car, Yvonne Alcuizar, told a Baltimore County jury Monday as she described what happened the night of Jan. 15, 2010, at the Shoppers Food & Pharmacy on Pikesville's Smith Avenue.
"Somebody caught my attention," she went on, describing a man in a purple Ravens jacket who had suddenly appeared on the sidewalk next to the car. "I locked myself in the car right away because of that man," Alcuizar said, and recalled having a "creepy feeling" about what might occur. She said that before she could do anything, her friend, Daryl Gabutan, returned and the man, brandishing a knife, commandeered the car. After some trouble putting it in gear, he drove off.
The man accused of the crime is Isaiah Dixon, a 55-year-old former Baltimore County prosecutor whose trial on carjacking and armed robbery charges began Monday. Dixon worked as an assistant state's attorney for almost eight years until July 1997, and was an attorney in private practice until he was disbarred last year after a history of drug problems and his arrest in the carjacking case.
The two women, both teachers in Baltimore's public schools, were the first witnesses for the prosecution. "I was so mad and upset," Alcuizar said. "I could have done something."
Under questioning by Assistant State's Attorney Salvatore D. Fili, Alcuizar said that when the man demanded the 2009 Honda Accord, she blurted out, "Don't do this!" and threatened to call the police on her cellphone.
"He looked at me really angry," she said. "I could remember the eyes, the scary eyes."
Nevertheless, she went on, when the man pushed Gabutan away from the car and got into the driver's seat, Alcuizar, who was still sitting on the passenger side, reached over and tried to turn off the engine. Then, she said, Gabutan ran around to Alcuizar's door, flung it open, and got her out of the vehicle before the man finally mastered the gear shift — "How do you do this?" he had asked at one point, according to Gabutan — and sped off.
Neither woman was asked on the stand whether they recognized Dixon, sitting in a suit and tie at the defense table, as the man who had taken the Honda from them.
Dixon was arrested three days later on Belle Avenue in Northwest Baltimore after a police officer spotted him driving Gabutan's car and gave chase. In his opening statement to the jury, Fili said the defendant bailed out of the Honda, which then struck a patrol car, and was grabbed while trying to climb a fence. "He resisted attempts to arrest him," the prosecutor said.
Later, when police officers searched Dixon's home on Stridesham Court, a few blocks from the Shoppers store, they found a Ravens jacket similar to the one worn by the carjacker and, more significantly, Fili said, a GPS device that had been in the stolen Honda. "When the police turned it on, Miss Gabutan's address popped right up," the prosecutor said.
Richard M. Karceski, Dixon's attorney, told the jury in his opening statement that there were still "unanswered questions" in the case, and suggested that because neither woman could definitively identify the defendant in a photo lineup after his arrest, someone else might have perpetrated the crime.
He said also county police had failed to preserve crucial evidence, including recordings of the 911 call made by Alcuizar and a subsequent bulletin disseminated to alert law enforcement to the missing vehicle and the man who took it. Then, Karceski said, when Dixon gave a written statement to a police officer saying he "didn't do it," the officer "threw it in the trash."