20-year-old is being wrongly tried in student's death, defense contends


A defense attorney yesterday said prosecutors are trying to convict the wrong person in the killing of a Towson State University student two years ago, and painted his client as a man too busy trying to get into college himself to become involved in a fatal robbery.

Defense attorney Antonio Gioia told a jury in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday in opening statements that Davon Neverdon, now 20, did not fire the gun that killed 21-year-old Joel J. Lee, a computer science major who was about to start his senior year.

In what police called an "execution" for the $20 he was carrying, Mr. Lee was shot in the face Sept. 2, 1993, in the 7000 block of McLean Blvd. in Northeast Baltimore. He had gone to the neighborhood to borrow a book from a friend.

Mr. Neverdon of the 2400 block of Bridgehampton Drive was charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery with a deadly weapon after an intense six-month investigation. He was captured in June 1994 by Harford County sheriff's deputies after the driver of a car in which he was a passenger was stopped for drunken driving.

Prosecutor Ahmet Hisim told the jury that Mr. Lee's death was the result of a collision of "two different worlds" -- that Mr. Neverdon, high on marijuana and hungry, shot Mr. Lee because he was in a hurry to get money so he could buy something to eat.

Mr. Hisim said several teen-agers who were with Mr. Neverdon that night would testify that they saw him shoot Mr. Lee after asking for a dollar. Mr. Neverdon threatened them not to tell police what they had seen, the prosecutor said.

"You'll hear that Mr. Neverdon was a very cruel, callous person, and that's why this happened," Mr. Hisim said.

But Mr. Gioia said Mr. Neverdon had something in common with Mr. Lee: plans for the future.

"He was not beating the streets with these other fellows on Sept. 2. He was beating books," Mr. Gioia said, telling jurors Mr. Neverdon had been studying "day and night" to take an exam to earn his high school equivalency diploma so he could attend Morgan State University.

Mr. Gioia said Mr. Neverdon's friends were the ones who should be charged with Mr. Lee's death. Calling them "a parade of misfits," Mr. Gioia said the other men were pointing the finger to avoid "their own well, well-deserved responsibility."

As testimony in the case began yesterday, Mr. Lee's mother, Sinja Lee, identified the piece of paper on which her son had drawn a map and written directions to his friend's apartment. Detectives found the paper in his hand after he had been shot.

She said she last saw her son that day around 8 p.m. About 2:30 a.m., detectives called her with news of his death.

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