Deliberations begin in party-slaying trial

A key prosecution witness testified in court last week that she was about 10 feet from Mario Jermaine Kaskins when she said he fatally shot Damon Michael Rhodes at an Annapolis birthday party two years ago. But by her own admission, it was at least the fifth version of what happened that she gave to police.

Another witness testified that she would not let Kaskins past the lobby and into the Aug. 10, 2002, party at the American Legion hall on Forest Drive because he was 19 and had no ticket. But she did not see whether he left.


These are among the conflicting statements that an Anne Arundel County jury was reminded of in closing arguments late yesterday before the seven men and five women began deliberating in Kaskins' trial.

Kaskins, now 22, of Annapolis, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Rhodes, 32, of Baltimore.


Assistant State's Attorney Sandra Foy Howell told jurors that the scene in the Cook-Pinkney Post changed from a celebration to chaos once shots were fired.

The key prosecution witness, Felicia Chew, 29, testified last week that she saw Kaskins, known as "B.K.," pull a gun from his waist and put it to the victim's neck, and then she closed her eyes and sunk to her knees when the shot was fired. She said she made eye contact with Kaskins immediately afterward. However, she did not tell that to police, even when they initially charged her cousin, Calvin Watkins, after another witness named him as the shooter. Charges against Watkins were dropped.

"You know that she is afraid," Howell told the jury, saying that other testimony supports Chew's account, including that of another woman who said Chew told her that night that she saw Kaskins shoot Rhodes.

But assistant public defender William M. Davis hammered away at Chew's changing statements, saying that without her final version, prosecutors didn't have a case against Kaskins.

"If you take her testimony out and throw it out, because that's what it's worth, the state has no evidence," Davis said.

Patricia Crowner, a party sponsor, had testified that she refused to let Kaskins in.

Davis told jurors that another witness had heard the shot and saw Watkins a few feet from the victim. "She doesn't see Mario Kaskins," he said.

After deliberating for an hour, jurors asked Circuit Judge Michael E. Loney if they could read Chew's statement to Annapolis police, but their request was denied because the statement was not part of the evidence. Jurors deliberated for another hour before breaking for the day. Deliberations are scheduled to resume today.