Verdicts reached on 12 counts in Basu murder case Results sealed; 1 count still open

THE BALTIMORE SUN

After reaching verdicts early this morning on 12 of 13 counts in the Pam Basu carjacking murder trial, jurors were returning to the courtroom in Ellicott City today to decide on the remaining kidnapping charge.

The verdicts were unannounced and sealed.

The jurors, who had heard lawyers characterize defendant Bernard Eric Miller, 17, of Washington, as either a brutal killer or an innocent onlooker, reached verdicts on 12 counts before deciding at 2:07 a.m. to quit for the night, the ninth day of the trial.

The Howard County Circuit Court jury of seven men and five women, which began deliberations about 3:45 p.m. yesterday, told Judge Dennis M. Sweeney they had not been able to decide on the kidnapping charge. He instructed them to return at 11 a.m.

Judge Sweeney asked the jurors to sign the 12 verdicts, and at 2:30 a.m. the jury foreman presented them to the judge in an envelope. The judge then ordered the verdicts sealed until the jury decides Mr. Miller's fate on the final count.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad said the verdicts were sealed to assure those charges would not have to be decided from scratch in the event a juror were to become ill before the trial ends.

Judge Sweeney told the jurors not to deliberate with each other or to discuss the case with anyone; then he sent them home.

Earlier, jurors had sought clarification of the term "intent to kidnap" they had heard in the judge's instructions. The 13 charges against the defendant include two kidnapping counts.

The jurors also had asked how long deliberations should continue before they broke off for the night. Judge Sweeney told them to discuss and decide that for themselves and report back to him. They also had asked how long they should deliberate on a particular charge before considering themselves deadlocked.

At 11:30 p.m., Judge Sweeney called the attorneys back into the courtroom to debate how to respond to a question about intent.

Then at 12:37 a.m., Judge Sweeney called the jurors in. Intent, he said, means a defendant acted with a will to do a given criminal act. It is an act done consciously and voluntarily, not inadvertently or accidentally, he said. The state's position, he told the jury, is that the defendant aided and abetted in the kidnapping.

After the jury adjourned for the night, still unable to decide on the kidnapping charge, the judge met with the attorneys and suggested that the technical language "carry and conceal" used in connection with the final count be altered this morning when he gives the jury further instructions about that charge.

He suggested that the word "conceal" be dropped altogether since "it has no bearing in this case," and that the attorneys "search [their] thesauruses for a synonym for 'carry.' " The attorneys agreed.

During an hourlong closing argument, the prosecutor told the jury that Mr. Miller was a full participant.

"But for the defendant, Bernard Miller, [Dr. Basu] would still be with us today," Mr. Rexroad said.

The attorney for Mr. Miller contended that the teen-ager is innocent of felony murder and 12 related charges, saying he was at "the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person."

About 10 relatives and friends of Dr. Basu were in court during closing arguments and waited into the evening for a verdict. Manas Basu, older brother of the victim's husband, Biswanath "Steve" Basu, said the trial has taken "an emotional toll" on the family. Deborah Miller, the defendant's mother, also was present.

Mr. Miller is one of two defendants charged in the Sept. 8 slaying of Dr. Basu, 34, a research chemist who was dragged to her death after being forced from her BMW at an intersection near her home in Savage. Mr. Miller faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted; he is protected from the death penalty because he was 16 when the crime occurred.

Co-defendant Rodney Eugene Soloman, 27, of Washington, faces the death penalty. His case was moved to Baltimore County, where he stands trial Aug. 2.

About 7 p.m., the jury requested an audiotape of the testimony of a woman who said the defendants attempted to steal her car shortly before the Basu carjacking. After consulting with attorneys, the judge denied the request and instructed jurors to rely on memories and notes.

Mr. Rexroad said the defendants worked in a "concert of action" during two attempted strong-arm robberies and then the carjacking murder of Dr. Basu. The prosecutor said Mr. Soloman initiated the crimes, and Mr. Miller joined him.

Laurack D. Bray, the Washington attorney representing Mr. Miller, acknowledged that his client was present but said he had no role in the crimes.

"The only intention he had was to ride with Mr. Soloman to Baltimore," Mr. Bray said during his 70-minute closing argument. "He got wrapped up in a plan that caused him serious problems."

During his closing argument, Mr. Rexroad summarized his case:

Mr. Miller and Mr. Soloman were traveling to Baltimore with friends when their car ran out of gas along Interstate 95. The group separated, with Mr. Miller and Mr. Soloman going to search for fuel.

The men went to a rest area along I-95, where they confronted Grace Lagana of Laurel, Mr. Rexroad said. After Mr. Soloman failed to steal her car, the two men fled, he said.

In the Bolling Brook neighborhood in Savage, they confronted Laura Becraft, Mr. Rexroad said. Mr. Soloman grabbed her and demanded the keys to her minivan as Mr. Miller stood by, Ms. Becraft said. When she refused and yelled, the men fled.

"Does it end there?" Mr. Rexroad questioned. "I wish to God it did end there. But they left that area."

The men ended up on Horsham Drive, where they were captured on video by Mr. Basu as he taped his wife putting their young daughter into their automobile.

The video, seen by jurors Wednesday, shows Mr. Soloman and Mr. Miller walking by the Basu home moments before they confronted Dr. Basu at an intersection a block away. Mr. Rexroad asked the jurors to study the video to appreciate the tragedy that it displays.

"She was waving goodbye to her husband on the last day of her life," Mr. Rexroad said. "He didn't know and she didn't know."

Mr. Bray asked jurors to disregard testimony of several prosecution witnesses because of inconsistencies.

One man said the defendants approached Dr. Basu from different points, while the other said they were standing at the car together. One man said Mr. Soloman was shirtless; the other said he was wearing a shirt, Mr. Bray said.

Mr. Bray also targeted the testimony of Ms. Lagana. He noted she initially told police Mr. Miller pushed her aside as he went to the car. But when she testified, she said that the defendant "threw" her to the ground.

The defense attorney insisted to the jurors that his client is not guilty. He said Mr. Miller joined Mr. Soloman in the Basu vehicle because the older defendant threatened him and ordered him into the car.

"This boy is not that type of person to go around assaulting people," the attorney said.

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