Jury finds Essex roofer guilty of attempted murder of officer

A Baltimore County jury took just 45 minutes yesterday to convict an Essex roofer of attempted murder in the near-fatal shooting of Officer James E. Beck last Halloween.

Mark Phillip French, 29, of the 300 block of George Ave., was found guilty of first-degree attempted murder of the officer, robbery with a deadly weapon of an Essex man, and use of a handgun in both offenses.


Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. set sentencing for May 25. French could receive up to life in prison.

His girlfriend, Heather Lynn Kendall, 17, of the 700 block of Aldworth Ave. in Dundalk, pleaded guilty Friday to robbery and a handgun charge. Assistant State's Attorney James O. Gentry Jr., who prosecuted both cases, will seek a five-year term for her at sentencing Monday.


Kendall admitted posing as a prostitute on Pulaski Highway in the early morning of Oct. 31 and robbing the man who gave her a ride. French followed in a battered pickup and participated in the robbery.

Kendall didn't testify, and Assistant Public Defender John Henderson emphasized in closing arguments that no one else had identified the shooter. He labeled the rest of the prosecution's case circumstantial.

Officer Beck, a K-9 officer and a 19-year police veteran, identified the truck, but not French. He said he pulled over the pickup after a police broadcast about the 3 a.m. robbery.

As he walked toward the pickup, he said, the driver stuck his arm out and fired several times. Officer Beck remembered only two of three shots that hit him in the chest and stomach. He was in the hospital more than two months.

Dr. Steven Turney, chief of thoracic surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, testified Tuesday that, after two operations, the officer "looked like he was on the way to dying." As a last resort, Dr. Turney said, doctors used an experimental machine to recirculate Officer Beck's blood through an oxygenator -- and he began to recover.

Using a cane, Officer Beck came to court yesterday, as did about a dozen other officers.

Before leaving for a doctor's appointment, Officer Beck said he has almost lost his hearing from complications related to the shooting.

But he did hear when Mr. Gentry raised his voice to rebut defense arguments. The prosecutor denounced suggestions that the police planted the gun used in the shooting when they arrested French in a raid on a home on North Bethel Street in Baltimore. He also defended Lisa M. Morton, who lived there and who testified against French.


Ms. Morton isn't "some bad drug-user from the city" looking for a reward, he said. "She is a hero."

Mr. Gentry read the jury portions of Ms. Morton's Tuesday testimony: how she decided to turn in her friend French after he admitted shooting the officer, because her brother was shot in 1991 and no one came forward to identify his killer.

"God bless Lisa Morton," the prosecutor said. "Because if it weren't for her courage, we might not be here. This case might never have been solved, because it was Lisa Morton who started the wheels turning toward the defendant."