Murder case retrial begins in shooting in Oakland Mills

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With the barrel of a gun thrust into his face, Michael Harding dropped to the ground as his friend DeShawn Anthony Wallace walked away despite a gunman's orders to "get down," Harding testified yesterday.

Within moments, Harding watched as the green-eyed gunman with a light complexion fatally shot Wallace in the head.

"I seen it in his eyes. He wasn't playing," Harding said.

Harding was one of two witnesses who testified in Howard Circuit Court yesterday as prosecutors retried their murder case against 22-year-old Tavon Donya Sands, who is accused of killing Wallace, 23, during a botched robbery in Columbia's Oakland Mills village Jan. 25 last year. Sands is charged with murder, armed robbery and related counts.

Sands' first trial, in October, ended abruptly in mistrial during its second day after a witness gave what lawyers said was surprise testimony from the stand.

This week's trial is expected to offer the same witnesses and evidence, and to rely heavily on the statements of Sands' ex-girlfriend, who told investigators that he admitted killing a man who refused to follow his orders, prosecutors said.

Wallace "didn't stand a chance when he tried to walk away from a cold-blooded killer like Tavon Sands," prosecutor Kim Oldham said during her opening statement.

"The murder of DeShawn Wallace was senseless, and it was for 30 cents and a pack of Newport cigarettes," she said.

Defense attorney Joseph Murtha said prosecutors will offer jurors "no concrete, hard evidence that ultimately you're able to look at and say, 'This proves it.'

"What you're going to have is a variety of changing stories" from witnesses, he said during his opening statement.

Prosecutors say Sands fired the fatal shot the night of the robbery, targeting Wallace because he was the only one among a group that included his brother and three friends who did not comply with orders to drop to the ground on a parking lot in the 5800 block of Stevens Forest Road.

Sands was with his two cousins that night, Oldham said, and went to pick up Joy Martinez, then his girlfriend, at her job in Ellicott City after Wallace was killed, despite his claims that he was with Martinez all night.

Martinez later told investigators that Sands told her about the killing more than once and showed her the .38-caliber revolver used in the shooting, the prosecutor said.

Murtha said Martinez initially said she knew nothing about the crime and came forward only because she was worried that charges would be filed against her in the case. The evidence against Sands amounts to "speculation" and "suspicions," he said.

Sands' two cousins were also charged with murder in the case, but all charges were dropped against one cousin, 19-year-old Robert L. Burgess, last year after prosecutors said they had "insufficient evidence" to try him.

A second cousin, Jonas L. Askins, 19, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in May in return for prosecutors' agreeing not to ask for a life term. Askins, who rifled through another man's pockets during the robbery, is scheduled for sentencing before Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley on Sept. 22.

Sands is serving a cumulative 39 years in prison for convictions stemming from crimes, including armed robbery, he committed between his release from prison in January 2001 after an assault conviction and his arrest on the murder charge a year later.

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