Kareem Courtney sits behind attorney J. Wyndal Gordon during a news conference last year. A trial for Courtneyon drug charges began Wednesday.
Kareem Courtney sits behind attorney J. Wyndal Gordon during a news conference last year. A trial for Courtneyon drug charges began Wednesday. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

It might have seemed like a run-of-the-mill drug prosecution — police say they found 75 capsules of heroin in an apartment, hidden in a plastic bag placed atop a kitchen cabinet.

But as jurors in a Baltimore County courtroom learned Wednesday, this wasn't the usual drug case. Police say they found the heroin during a search of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines' Randallstown apartment after a county tactical officer shot and killed her there.

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The shooting, in which Gaines' 5-year-old son was also wounded, stirred controversy and drew attention from around the nation.

Her fiance, Kareem Courtney, 39, is facing several drug charges, including possession with intent to distribute, a felony. His trial opened Wednesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Prosecutor Daniel Bernard Trimble told jurors he knew that some of them had probably heard about Gaines.

He said the heroin found was packaged to be sold, and that it had been placed in an area where the young children in the apartment could not reach it.

"Use your common sense," Trimble told the jury.

Defense lawyer J. Wyndal Gordon said Courtney did not live at the Randallstown apartment but at a home in Baltimore.

His driver's license contained the city address, and police did not find men's clothing or toiletries at Gaines' apartment, Gordon said.

Courtney and Gaines "were engaged, but they weren't necessarily shacking up," he said.

Gordon said the state would not prove his client's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"This case is about prosecutorial overreach," he said.

As the case opened, jurors heard about the events that led to the standoff between Gaines and police on Aug. 1.

Police went to the apartment on Sulky Court that morning to serve arrest warrants on her and Courtney. The warrant for Gaines was for her alleged failure to appear in court on charges stemming from a traffic stop. The warrant for Courtney was connected to allegations that he had assaulted Gaines at the apartment.

Jurors heard testimony Wednesday from Officers Allen Griffin and John Dowell, who went to the home to serve the warrants. Griffin said he knocked on the door and no one answered. But they said they believed that someone was inside after hearing noises from the apartment.

Another officer got a key from the rental office, according to testimony. Police tried to open the door, but a chain lock was on it. Griffin said he tried to push the door in with his shoulder. When the door still didn't open, Dowell kicked it in.

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Griffin described entering the apartment and seeing a woman, later identified as Gaines, with a gun.

"I said, 'Gun, gun, gun!'" to let the other officers know, he said.

Courtney surrendered to police and left the apartment with his young daughter before an hours-long standoff ensued.

Both Griffin and Dowell are defendants in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by members of Gaines' family, as well as Courtney. The other defendants are the county and Royce Ruby Jr., the officer who killed Gaines. Gordon is among the attorneys representing the family in the civil litigation.

The lawsuit accuses police of illegally entering Gaines' home. The Police Department and county prosecutors say they determined that the entry was legal.

No criminal charges were filed against officers involved in the shooting, which prosecutors ruled was legally justified.

Jurors also heard Wednesday from several other witnesses for the prosecution, including McDonnell Jones, a homicide detective who was one of about seven officers who searched the apartment after the shooting. He said he found the heroin in a black plastic bag on top of the cabinet.

Throughout his cross-examination of Jones, Gordon raised questions about the search and the warrant that authorized it.

Courtney's trial is scheduled to resume Thursday morning. He was also charged with several weapons-related counts after the search. Prosecutors have said they would dismiss those charges because the only firearm in the home was the shotgun, which belonged to Gaines.

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