In a surprise move during a rare capital murder trial in Baltimore, defense attorneys for the man accused of killing police Detective Thomas G. Newman told a jury yesterday that their client drove the getaway car after the shooting and should be convicted of second-degree murder.
"You have to convict this man of a crime," Mark Van Bavel said during closing arguments in an attempt to spare Jovan J. House from the death penalty. "That is second-degree murder, and we have to deal with it."
The Baltimore Circuit Court jury began deliberating at 1:30 p.m. in the city's first death penalty case in six years. They will resume their work Tuesday morning.
If they convict House of first-degree murder, jurors will then begin a second phase of the trial to decide whether he should be sentenced to death.
Prosecutors painted a far different picture of House, saying he was not the getaway driver but a triggerman who shot Newman because he is a "cold-blooded, calculated and unrepentant cop killer."
"Despite the defendant's pathetic explanation, the facts clearly establish what Jovan House did to execute Thomas Gary Newman," said prosecutor Matthew Fraling. "The defendant was the one with the gun, and he was the shooter."
House is accused of being one of two gunmen who ambushed and shot Newman nine times outside a Southeast Baltimore tavern Nov. 23, 2002.
Prosecutors have brought in more than 20 witnesses to testify over seven days in an attempt to prove that House shot Newman in an act of retaliation.
Jurors heard a tape recording of House's statement to police, in which House said his friend, Raymond Saunders, "owed" the officer for testifying against Saunders' half-brother, Andre Travers.
Travers was convicted of shooting and wounding the detective in April 2001. He is serving a 30-year sentence.
"I guess he [Saunders] wanted revenge, you know," House told police in a calm voice on the tape. "I guess the officer pointed his brother out or something."
Saunders, 22, and Anthony A. Brown, 34, are also charged in Newman's death and will be tried later.
Van Bavel told the jury yesterday that the state had "a lot of evidence" against his client, including a taped confession in which he admits being involved in planning the killing and driving the getaway car.
"Jovan House made a statement to police," Van Bavel said. "I would be an idiot to stand up here and tell you to disregard it."
Prosecutors said police performed a gunshot residue test on House in the hours after the shooting and found a high concentration of gunshot residue in the webbing of his right hand and on his thumb.
"The defendant's hands had one hundred times the gunshot residue necessary to prove an individual fired a gun," Fraling said.
The killing occurred about 2 a.m. after Newman and two friends walked out of Joe's Tavern in the 1000 block of Dundalk Ave.
Newman was at the bar most nights, either working as a security guard or drinking on his nights off, according to testimony. The night he was killed, he was not working there.
The men he was with - Cleve Henderson, 50, and Ricky Henson, 44 - were doormen at the tavern. They stood next to him in the parking lot as he was shot and fell to the ground, according to testimony.
Henderson and Henson then jumped in a car and chased the gunmen as they sped off in a getaway car and stopped in the O'Donnell Heights housing complex.
Police officers testified last week that 10 minutes after the shooting, they found House hiding in a utility shed in O'Donnell Heights. At the time, he was wearing a black shoulder holster.
Police also found the murder weapon - a 9 mm semi-automatic Glock handgun - in the shed immediately after they arrested House.
In his taped statement, House said that he had the weapon because Saunders gave it to him after the shooting.
Prosecutors said the murder weapon was stolen weeks before the killing in a burglary from the home of former Baltimore Housing Authority Police Officer Carl Anderson.
Other items stolen from Anderson's home, including computers and body armor, were found in House's home, according to testimony.