After seven hours of sorting through ambiguous and sometimes-contradictory evidence, an Anne Arundel County jury yesterday found an Annapolis man guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a 32-year-old Baltimore man two years ago.
Mario Jermaine Kaskins, 22, was found not guilty of first-degree and second-degree murder in the death of Damon Michael Rhodes, who was shot in the neck at a birthday party Aug. 10, 2002, at an American Legion hall in Annapolis.
But the jury agreed on the lesser charge of manslaughter. Assistant State's Attorney Sandra Foy Howell had argued that Kaskins pulled a gun after a nearby scuffle and shot Rhodes. Howell said in the chaotic scene that ensued - in which as many as 100 people fled the complex - Kaskins fired more shots into the ceiling.
Kaskins will remain jailed until his sentencing hearing Feb. 14 in front of Circuit Judge Michael E. Loney. Kaskins could face up to 10 years in prison.
Two jury members said they were confused about the evidence and frustrated by the few answers that emerged.
"In our last reenactment, we concluded that Kaskins had something to do with it, but you don't know exactly what," forewoman Ivy Mayhew said after the verdict. "We think he had the gun."
The attorney for Kaskins, William M. Davis, argued that Kaskins wasn't in the room when shots were fired after 11:30 p.m. He also challenged the credibility of prosecution witness Felicia Chew, who testified that she was standing 10 feet away from Kaskins when she saw him pull a gun from his waistband and heard the gun go off.
According to Davis, Chew's testimony represented at least her fifth version of events. Chew testified that she had not been more forthcoming because she was afraid of retaliation, even after her cousin, Calvin Watkins, was arrested in connection with the shooting. Charges against Watkins were dropped.
Chew, 29, testified that she made eye contact with Kaskins after the first shot was fired. Both of them lived in the same Annapolis neighborhood.
Another jury member, Genevieve Segura, said after the verdict was read that she was somewhat uneasy about relying on Chew's testimony. No other witness from the hall named Kaskins as the shooter, and no gun was recovered.
"There was a lot of confusion, a lot of contradictory information," Segura said.
"The verdict does reflect" that the evidence pointed to Kaskins as the gunman, Howell said. "My assumption is that the issue is of intent. ... We don't know what happened immediately preceding the shooting."
A friend of Rhodes, Heyron Chapman, testified that a gunman appeared from behind someone whom Rhodes was fighting. But Chapman said he couldn't identify the shooter in the dark and crowded hall.
"It's the state's job to answer the questions for the jury. ... The fact that the state didn't should have resulted in a verdict of not guilty," Davis said.
"In some way, I am at fault," Davis added, because he didn't emphasize enough to the jury that the lack of evidence was a "benefit to my client, not a detriment."
For his part, Rhodes' father, Dwight Banks of Baltimore, said that in the months after the shooting, he kept hearing Kaskins' nickname, "B.K.," as the one who killed his son.
"The name came up from so many angles," Banks said.
But what Howell referred to as "the atmosphere of fear" stopped potential witnesses from coming forward.
"We had people calling us all the time ... and we would say, 'Call the police,'" Banks said.