Former state trooper James M. Harding -- accused of killing his 23-year-old stepson in March -- will argue that he acted in self-defense, citing statements to police that Marine Cpl. Andre Boone went to Harding's Columbia residence looking for a fight, his attorney says.
The gunshot slaying of Boone, a member of the Marine silent drill team that sometimes travels with the president, is the only homicide recorded this year in Howard County.
Documents obtained by The Sun from defense sources show a case involving the tangled emotions of a family in which love and tension co-existed for years. In the end, a woman buried her son and watched her husband go to jail.
Prosecutors, who were not available for comment yesterday, are expected to try to use inconsistencies in Harding's statements to police and physical evidence to counter the self-defense argument.
But Michael Ramsey, Harding's defense attorney, says he will argue that when Boone arrived at Harding's house March 21, the two fought, and Boone picked up a gas can and threatened to burn down the house.
"There's only two people who could have stopped this guy -- God and a bullet," Ramsey said.
According to reports of police interviews about the killing, two of Boone's friends told police that on the day he was slain he drove to Harding's Gooding Circle home "to beat up his stepfather" and "to mess him up."
Contacted by a reporter, both friends -- Boone's girlfriend of 3 1/2 years and his Marine supervisor -- seemed to backpedal from the statements in the police reports, saying they did not recall the exact words Boone told them or what they told police.
Still, both said that Boone was very upset March 21 when he left his Virginia home -- though they did not know why.
"He sounded like he was crying," said his supervisor, Cpl. Darelle Joiner, whom Boone called just before leaving to cancel a workout date. "He just said he needed to go home for whatever reason. I tried several times to get him to say what was wrong."
"Nobody knows but [Harding] and Andre what happened inside that house. It's going to be [Harding's] word against no one's," Joiner said in an interview this week.
The fight apparently had its origins in a visit by Boone's friend Sean Mease to Harding's house. Mease was looking for Boone. L'Net Harding -- Boone's mother and Harding's wife of 11 years -- told police that her husband erroneously believed that she was having an affair with Mease and was jealous. James Harding, 39, pulled a gun on Mease, police records say.
Mease fled and called Boone at his Virginia home, leaving a message on his answering machine telling him what had happened. Mease also reported the incident to police.
Boone then called his girlfriend and his mother and talked to Mease. All urged him not to go to Harding's house.
According to the police reports, L'Net Harding told police that Andre said that he was going to the house because "this has gone on long enough."
L'Net Harding told him, "Don't go over there," to which Boone responded, "I have to. I have to."
The mother then pleaded, "If you love me, don't go." Boone hung up the phone, the reports say.
Kimberly E. Gillette, Boone's girlfriend, said in an interview that when Boone called her that morning, she felt he was going to confront Harding but she did not know about what. And she never thought it would get physical.
Police records and interviews show that the confrontation was the violent culmination of what had become a sometimes strained, competitive relationship between the two men.
Boone was protective of his mother and was angered when he heard that Harding had an affair last winter, Boone's former girlfriend said. L'Net Harding also received a protective order after alleging that she had been beaten by her husband before, according to court records.
Gillette said that it was the growing tension with Harding that caused Boone to leave home and join the Marines.
Accident shattered dream
In 1993, three weeks after fulfilling his dream of becoming a state trooper, Harding suffered severe injuries when he was hit by a car while helping a motorist, and he later lost his job. Boone's father, Andre Humphrey, has said that when Boone joined the Marines in 1994, Harding was jealous of his success.
According to Harding's former supervisor, Harding was fired because of the legal problems with his wife. The supervisor also said that the accident injured him so badly he could no longer perform his duties as a trooper.
Ramsey said the fact that several people -- including Harding's mother -- pleaded with Boone not to go the house that day in March bolsters the self-defense argument.
"Harding had a gun, and Andre knew he had one," the defense lawyer said. "You feel sorry for the deceased, but you've got to take some responsibility."
Prosecutors, who were attending a conference in Ocean City and did not return phone calls yesterday, are expected to point to inconsistencies in Harding's statements and physical evidence to refute the self-defense argument.
The police reports say Harding initially told police that Boone was shot at close range during a struggle, but police say that tests show the shotgun was fired from a distance. The tests also show that the shooting likely came after the fight -- not during, according to the documents.
A legal expert said that in self-defense cases, defendants must show that they were in imminent fear of their lives and that their actions -- even deadly ones -- were justifiable.
"There would have to be an honest belief" that the defendant's life was in immediate peril, said Byron Warnken, a professor at the University of Maryland's School of Law.
Harding's attorney said that he believed prosecutors had evidence to bring only the lesser charge of manslaughter against Harding, not murder. Manslaughter carries a maximum prison term of 10 years while murder carries a maximum of life in prison without parole. The trial is scheduled Sept. 29.
'Kept it within the family'
Joiner and others said that, whatever the tensions at home, Boone kept them to himself and often talked highly of his stepfather.
"I never heard anything negative" about Harding, Joiner said. "Even if there was something going on, he kept it within the family."
"Andre would never have wanted to hurt [Harding]," Gillette said. "I've never seen in 3 1/2 years a violent side of" Boone.
On the phone March 21, she told Boone to come by her house before going to Harding's, but he did not. Concerned, she said she drove by Harding's house twice to see if Boone was there. The first time, Boone's Jeep was not in sight. The second time, she found the police instead.
"I just had a gut feeling that something wasn't right," said Gillette, 21, a student at Smith College in Massachusetts. "I believe it started out as a verbal confrontation and what happened from there, I don't know."
Pub Date: 6/26/97