Joseph Daniel Parrish had a lot to say in Harford County Circuit Court on Thursday, against a judge’s admonitions. At a motion hearing for a new trial, Parrish spoke bluntly, telling the court that two innocent men were in jail after the judge gave attorneys 20 more days to prepare to argue motions.
Judge Paul W. Ishak made the ruling to give attorneys time to review updated law on DNA evidence before he rules on a new trial for the Aberdeen man.
Parrish, 28, was convicted Oct. 17 of first-degree murder, witness retaliation and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. A jury found him to have killed a 61-year-old Havre de Grace man who Parrish was accused of previously robbing and who was slated to testify against him in the robbery case. His cause of death, according to charging documents, was a gunshot wound to the head.
Officers of the Havre de Grace Police Department responded to the 200 block of North Washington Street on Nov. 11 and found Jeffrey Mark Coudon suffering from gunshot wounds. He was taken to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore where he died three days later.
At Thursday’s hearing, Parrish’s attorney Shane Nolan argued that evidence had been misused and a prosecutor’s remark during the trial unfairly prejudiced his client.
One of the central pieces of evidence at trial was a cigarette butt with Parrish’s DNA on it. At trial, Nolan showed it to the jury and brought it over to the defense table for his client to see. At that, Timothy Doory of the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office “jumped up” and implied he was tampering with the evidence.
“You just cannot un-ring that bell,” Nolan said. “From that point on, the jury is looking at us like we had tampered with evidence.”
Doory acknowledged that he had made the remark, but he did it to preserve the evidence’s integrity, he argued. It was too close to the defendant.
“He took the evidence over to the jury ... moved over to the defendant, within two feet of him. I blurted out ‘stop playing games,'” he said. “Another foot and it would have been of no evidentiary value."
Nolan also claimed that prosecutors used evidence from the robbery case against Parrish, which he said was not permitted under Maryland rules of criminal procedure. Doory explained that they brought evidence from the robbery case against Parrish to illustrate his attempt to hide the crime. While he was being detained, Parrish made multiple calls from jail.
“We brought it in to show that even though he knew his telephone conversations were being recorded, he made repeated efforts ... to say ‘get the evidence out,’” Doory said.
Parrish was accused of robbery, assault, theft and possession of marijuana in March 2018. Charging documents in his murder case indicate Coudon was mugged in that same month of 2018. All of those charges were dropped on March 14, 2019.
Toward the end of the hearing, Parrish raised his hand, which was attached to his waist by a chain. He wanted to speak.
“I have a right to speak my mind and say my piece,” Parrish said.
When Ishak broke in to tell Parrish that his attorney would “filter” what he wanted to tell the court, Parrish offered to fire him.
“So if I were to fire him right now, I could speak my piece?” Parrish asked.
Parrish continued on to say that two innocent men were incarcerated, potentially referring to himself and Robert Lee Zeman III, who is charged with accessory to murder and misdemeanor firearms charges, according to court records. Zeman is scheduled for a hearing Feb. 6 and a trial Feb. 11 on those charges.
Thursday’s hearing ended shortly after Parrish spoke.
Two of Parrish’s sisters were in the courtroom. One of them, Tala Mahan, clutched a folder of letters written as attestations to her brother’s character. She said she was happy her brother got to speak, however briefly, and that he would be given another chance to dispute the facts of the case and potentially secure his release.
“I wanted him to have his chance to speak," she said. “I’m pleased the way this turned out.”