Maryland's highest court ruled yesterday that anyone who takes part in an urban shootout may be convicted of murder -- whether or not they fired the fatal shot.
The Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a 1994 lower court ruling that affirmed the conviction of David L. "Diesel" Alston, who was found guilty of murdering a 15-year-old girl during JJTC shootout between rival gangs in a West Baltimore neighborhood.
Adrian Edmonds was killed as she sat on porch steps and held her 15-month-old son near the intersection of Presstman and Division streets about 11 p.m. July 14, 1992.
Alston was sentenced to 30 years in prison by Baltimore Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown. In his appeal, Alston argued that he and the suspect who fired the fatal shot were on opposite sides in the fight and that he should not be charged as an accessory to murder.
But in his 18-page opinion, Judge Lawrence J. Rodowsky noted that Alston helped plan and participate in the shootout, in which eight teen-agers shot at each other in a dispute that apparently began when one gang member perceived a rival as paying too much attention to a girl.
"There would have been no mutual combat, and no murder of an innocent person, but for the willingness of both groups to turn an urban setting into a battleground," Judge Rodowsky wrote. "In this sense, each participant is present, aiding and abetting each other participant."
Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who argued the case before the Court of Appeals in March, said the ruling means anyone involved in a shootout cannot claim innocence by saying that he was on the opposite side from the gunman who fired the fatal shot.
"The significance is that it doesn't make any difference which team you're on. The act is so horrendous, so outrageous, that if you're a participant, you're going to be held accountable," Mr. Curran said.
Alston was convicted even though prosecutors conceded the fatal 9 mm bullet was fired by a New York man -- known as "B. O." -- who never has been caught.
Four other men pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received sentences ranging from 10 months to 10 years.
In affirming Alston's conviction last year, the Court of Special Appeals called the gunmen "arrogant and swaggering young men, acting like a group of drunken cowboys."
Judge Rodowsky yesterday used less colorful language to note that Alston's case was consistent with other "depraved heart" murder convictions, in which a defendant is convicted of murder if he is so reckless that he shows a vicious disregard for human life and a death results.
Alston and his accomplices helped set in motion a chain of events that led to the victim's death, Judge Rodowsky said.
"When their forces did meet at Presstman and Division streets, they opened fire, returned fire and continued to fire in mindless disregard of the lives of the people on the street and in the surrounding houses," he said.