After deliberating for five hours last night, a Prince George's County jury found 18-year-old Cochise I. "Cody" Queen guilty of involuntary manslaughter and second-degree assault in last year's beating death of Gilberto Hernandez, a Salvadoran immigrant.
Queen, of Laurel, could receive up to 20 years in prison and be fined $2,500 when he is sentenced Nov. 5 by Circuit Judge Alan Shepherd. He remains in the Prince George's County Detention Center.
Said Queen's attorney, Paul Christian: "Obviously we were hoping to get an outright acquittal, but Cody is relieved that he will not be spending the rest of his life in prison."
Prosecutors Fran Longwell and Wesley Adams, who tried Queen on a first-degree murder charge, refused to comment on the jury's decision. The trial was held in Upper Marlboro.
In closing arguments, Longwell described how Queen and six other teen-agers began chasing Hernandez and his two brothers, Juan and Tomas Hernandez, as they left their jobs as dishwashers at Four Seasons Buffet on U.S. 1 in Laurel on Sept. 4, 1998.
Longwell said the Hernandez brothers were heading for their Fourth Street apartment when Queen and the others began to chase them to commit robbery. Tomas and Juan escaped, but Queen tackled Gilberto. The victim struck his head on the ground and died four days later at a Washington hospital.
"Gilberto Hernandez was hit so hard that he was knocked off of his feet, cracking his skull from the base to the hairline," said Longwell.
While on the ground, Longwell said, two members of Queen's group -- Kelly Martin, 19, and Steve Darby, 17, both of Laurel -- kicked Hernandez in the head.
Martin and Darby face first-degree murder and assault charges. They are expected to stand trial next month.
Four other teen-agers originally charged with homicide by Laurel police agreed to testify against Queen in exchange for immunity. Over the three-day trial, however, only one of them -- 17-year-old Gerald D. Culberth -- testified that he saw Queen tackle Hernandez. The others claimed they were unsure.
Queen's defense attorney criticized Prince George's State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson's decision to drop charges against the four. Johnson, who could not be reached for comment, has said that although the four chased Hernandez, they did not injure him.
Defense attorney Steve Jacoby, of College Park, criticized the selection of defendants as "a lottery."
Jacoby also criticized Hernandez's brothers, saying they changed their testimony after being coached by others. Hernandez's brothers, along with their sister, Maria Hernandez, sat quietly in the courtroom as they listened to the verdict that was announced through an interpreter. They refused comment.