A trial for Naeshawn Jaheim-Troy Perry, accused of killing a 15-year-old in 2017, was postponed Friday after too few jurors could be found to hear the case.
Messages directed toward the accused were also found scrawled in the Harford County courthouse elevator several times this week.
“Obviously it raises serious fair trial implications for Mr. Perry,” public defender Andrew Geraghty told Harford County Circuit Court Judge Paul Ishak.
A new date — likely in early March — will be discussed at a conference among the prosecutor and defense attorneys Tuesday. Geraghty said he also intends to file a motion for a change of venue, given the inability to seat a jury.
Perry, 18, is charged with first- and second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Maleigha Solonka, of Edgewood, whose body was found Aug. 16, 2017 in the woods in the 400 block of Webb Lane in Havre de Grace, six days after her family reported her missing.
The medical examiner said the cause of death was asphyxiation and it was ruled a homicide.
Perry, who was 16 at the time of the murder, was arrested more than a year later, in August 2018.
Over the course of the three days of jury selection that began Wednesday, vandalism was discovered in the courthouse elevator, where “kill Perry” was written at least once, Geraghty told Ishak. It was one of two pictures of the vandalism Geraghty introduced as part of the case on Friday afternoon.
The first messages were found and covered by courthouse security, but were rewritten at least one more time, Ishak told Solanka’s family Friday afternoon in the courtroom, after telling them about the postponement.
“I caution everyone to be mindful, watchful and spread the message, this kind of conduct isn’t helping,” Ishak said. “Be mindful of who is coming and going in the case.”
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office is aware of the multiple graffiti messages seen in the courthouse elevator over the course of the last two days, Cristie Hopkins, director of media relations for the agency, said.
The first message, which contained the name of a defendant in a current trial, was found by deputies assigned to the courthouse at approximately 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Security measures were increased.
Additional messages were found Friday.
“We are monitoring the situation and will work closely with the judge and courthouse staff to ensure the safety of the courthouse, the citizens and to minimize any disruption to court proceedings,” Hopkins said.
Ishak also advised Solanka’s family members to stay off social media.
“The court loses available jurors to hear a case if they read about it online in any source,” Ishak said. “Three to five degrees of separation? If you post on Facebook, you can’t control who will read or hear it. I have a very strong suggestion that you ‘turtle up,’ you need to kind of shut down.”
He wouldn’t issue a gag order, but strongly suggested they “stay off social media about this case.”
When the trial begins in March, two full panels of jurors will be summoned to ensure a jury will be able to be seated, Ishak said.
Ishak explained to Solanka’s family that in a jury trial, each side gets a number of pre-emptive strikes.
“They have the right to exercise strikes from the panel of potential jurors,” Ishak said.
Before jurors can be chosen, the court is required to have a certain number available to accommodate each side’s strikes.
“In this particular case, over the course of a number of days, there were not sufficient panel members to provide each side the requisite number of strikes, and as a result, the case had to be postponed,” Ishak said.