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Alleged hit man on trial for 1981 murder in Essex Next-door neighbor paid for shooting


An Essex friendship that turned into "a Hatfield and McCoy relationship" led a former Baltimore City police officer to contract to have his next-door neighbor shot in the back in 1981, a Baltimore County prosecutor said yesterday.

The prosecutor then pointed across the courtroom at the man he called a hit man: Jack Douglas Mayhew, 40, who is serving a 25-year term for burglary. Mayhew went on trial yesterday before a jury of eight women and four men in Baltimore County Circuit Court, charged with first-degree murder in the April 28, 1981, death of Joseph E. Jackson. Mr. Jackson, a 32-year-old mechanic, died of a shotgun blast as he was walking toward the garage at his waterfront home in the 2100 block of Riverview Road.

Homicide detectives immediately suspected the next-door neighbor, but Robert Francis Ewing, a 45-year-old former police officer working as a security guard at Pimlico Race Track, had an alibi -- he was in a bar a mile or two away -- and no hit man could be found, Assistant State's Attorney Jason League told the jury in his opening statement.

So no one was charged and the case remained open until 1990, when detectives found a man in Florida who said he had met Mayhew at the racetrack and referred him to Ewing to help with "a problem," the prosecutor said. The man was frightened when Mayhew called to tell him about the killing the morning after, the prosecutor said.

Ewing was convicted of murder and conspiracy last year and sentenced to 30 years of a maximum life sentence.

He was a police officer from 1967 until 1975, police spokesmen said at the time of his arrest in June 1990.

In her opening statement, Acting Public Defender Amanda Bull noted the absence of any physical evidence or accounts by witnesses tying Mayhew to the shooting.

"The real suspect was a man named Robert Ewing," she said. "I urge you to think about the motives, why a person would testify falsely."

Mr. Jackson's former fiancee, Carol Ann Davis Smith, cried as she recalled hearing what sounded like a cherry bomb that night, then finding Mr. Jackson on the ground, dying from a gunshot wound in the back.

She said they met in 1978 and were friendly with his neighbors, the Ewings, until Labor Day of 1979 when "there was a party at their house and Joe was drinking pretty heavy, and he beat me up."

"There was a squabble, and it went downhill from there," said Mrs. Smith, who has since married. The Ewings leveled accusations against Mr. Jackson, including a charge that he exposed himself to their daughter.

"It was just constant bickering, back and forth," Mrs. Smith recalled. "Bob Ewing made a pass at me once, and Joe threatened to beat him up."

The night of the killing, she said, she was at Mr. Jackson's home when she heard what sounded like a cherry bomb about 11 p.m. It was unusual, she said, that the Ewings had their spotlights turned off.

Joseph Langstrom, who lived on the other side of Mr. Jackson, had just returned from his yard when he, too, heard the cherry bomb sound, and Carol Davis came running to tell him Mr. Jackson had been shot.

Retired homicide detective William Viands testified that his questioning that night of Ewing "made me suspicious . . . He was what I would call overly cooperative."

Mr. Viands said he was aware of the hostile relationship but was not able to make an arrest by the time he retired from the force in 1987.

The trial is to resume today at 9:30 a.m.

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