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Harford judge denies new trial for man convicted of 2018 murder in Havre de Grace

Joseph Daniel Parrish hoped to be granted a new trial when he appeared for a hearing in Harford County Circuit Court. Instead, he got a sentencing date for his first-degree murder conviction.

Judge Paul W. Ishak denied Parrish’s request for a new trial Thursday — a decision he deferred from a motions hearing in January. He scheduled to be sentenced on May 4.

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Joseph Daniel Parrish, 28, was convicted in October of first-degree murder in the 2018 death of 61-year-old Havre de Grace man.
Joseph Daniel Parrish, 28, was convicted in October of first-degree murder in the 2018 death of 61-year-old Havre de Grace man. (Courtesy photo / BSMG)

Parrish, 28, was convicted of killing 61-year-old Jeffrey Coudon in November 2018 after Coudon was scheduled to testify against him in a robbery case. Parrish had allegedly robbed Coudon in March 2018.

Parrish was also found guilty of witness retaliation and use of a firearm during the commission of a felony on Oct. 17.

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His brother, Robert Lee Zeman III, was also convicted in February of helping Parrish cover up the deed. He, too, is appealing his conviction of accessory to second-degree murder.

On Nov. 11, Havre de Grace police responded to an apartment in the 200 block of North Washington Street to find Coudon suffering from gunshot wounds. Coudon died at the hospital three days later.

Police took notice of Parrish when he was in jail on charges of robbing someone who lived in the same complex as Coudon, according to court documents, and moved to compare DNA taken from the murder scene to that collected in the robbery investigation. They also found that Parrish had made calls from the jail to his brother, Zeman. He allegedly told Zeman to go dispose of a backpack containing evidence, which led to Zeman’s arrest and subsequent conviction.

Defense attorney Shane Nolan argued that the prosecution tainted the jury by implying the defense had tampered with a key piece of evidence — a cigarette butt recovered from the scene of the crime that was swabbed for Parrish’s DNA. At trial, Nolan asked to see it, and it was brought close to Parrish, leading assistant state’s attorney Timothy Doory to stand up and tell the defense to “stop playing games."

“That jury got sent off when, in their minds, the last thing they heard ... was that we were tampering with evidence,” Nolan said. “I think that alone is sufficient for a new trial.”

Doory countered that the judge instructed the jury “then and there” to disregard his statement. He was concerned the key piece of evidence could be contaminated.

“I dramatically intervened before it got any closer,” Doory said. “It would have been disregarded if the defense had not brought it up in their closing argument.”

Beyond that implication, the attorneys sparred over the admissibility of evidence presented at trial. Nolan asserted the state convicted Parrish using evidence in from another case, which is not permitted, and relied on inadmissible testimony from a police officer.

“If [a police officer] did not testify, the other crime’s evidence could not have come in,” he said. “It is hearsay, and minus that hearsay, it would not be admissible.”

Doory disagreed, saying that prosecutors were not trying Parrish for the underling crime he was accused of committing. They were using the evidence, which he contended was properly established and admitted, to prove that Coudon was subject to retaliation for reporting a crime.

Ishak was not convinced of the need for a new trial and offered Parrish a chance to speak at the hearing’s end, which he took without hesitation.

Parrish, who has repeatedly declared his and his brother’s innocence, said that there was no connection between him and the gun used to kill Coudon. He also said he would fire his attorney Thursday and claimed that prosecutors and police lied to secure his conviction.

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“I was railroaded from the very beginning,” he said. “They built the case around my name and made me the killer.”

He further asserted his and his brother’s innocence and claimed Coudon’s real killer is still on the loose in his lengthy statement.

Asked if the prosecution wished to reply, Doory told the judge “we do not need to reply, your honor.”

After the judge made his ruling, Parrish offered affection to his supporters, who sat in the gallery behind his defense table.

“I love you guys,” he said. “I will see you all in 18 months.”

His pronouncement to Chester Norton, one of the detectives who put him in the striped Harford County Detention Center jumpsuit and restraints he wore at the defense table, however, was more profane.

Parrish faces a maximum sentence of life without parole for his first-degree murder conviction.

Parrish’s supporters did not wish to comment for this article.

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