Two Glen Burnie men were robbing a Howard County teen-ager at gunpoint when the weapon went off as the victim was struck, a prosecution witness testified yesterday in the men's murder trial.
Gerald Carvell Wallace hit the teen-ager with the gun, which then fired the fatal shot, said the witness, George Scott.
"It was pow - just like that," Scott said, testifying in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in the trial of Wallace and Keith Lamont Mallet. Wallace, 24, and Mallet, 21, are standing trial together on charges of first-degree murder in the October 2000 death of Jerome Isaiah Johnson, 18, in Pasadena's Freetown neighborhood.
Mallet is being tried for the first time in the case. Wallace was tried on similar charges last year, but that proceeding ended in a mistrial after jurors could not reach a verdict. Some of those jurors had questioned whether Scott's testimony, which is central to the state's case, was credible.
Although Scott did not immediately tell police that he knew who had killed Johnson, he identified the two defendants during a lengthy police interrogation several days after the killing.
Johnson, who graduated from Hammond High School and worked as a mattress salesman, had gone to visit a friend who lived on Huff Court in Pasadena.
Prosecutors maintain Wallace and Mallet tried to rob Johnson, whom they had seen drinking earlier that evening.
Yesterday, Scott testified that he was standing on the street corner with Johnson when Wallace and Mallet approached them. He said Wallace drew a gun and held it to Johnson's head while Mallet went through the teen-ager's pockets.
When Wallace hit Johnson in the head with the gun, the weapon discharged, Scott told jurors. After the gun went off and Johnson dropped to the ground, Scott said, he ran to his sister's house.
The bullet entered Johnson's chest through the shoulder, according to Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Rogers, who is prosecuting the case with co-counsel Robin Rickard.
Scott said he told his sister he had seen who killed Johnson after police discovered the body. However, under cross-examination yesterday, he said he identified Wallace and Mallet later because he thought he'd be in trouble with police if he didn't.
"I had to get myself off the hot seat," he said under questioning by Mallet's attorney, Louis J. Martucci.
Wallace is being represented by public defenders Mary Jo Livingston and Kimber Davis.
During his first trial in April, Wallace represented himself. In the new trial, which began last week, he still maintains that police arrested the wrong men.
"They didn't do it," Livingston, said. "Our clients are innocent."
Prosecutors are expected to rest their case today after they call two forensic specialists - a state police ballistics expert and an assistant medical examiner - to describe Johnson's fatal injuries.
The trial is expected to last much of this week.