A friend of Noah Jamahl Jones, an Anne Arundel teen who died in a brawl last year, pleaded guilty to a gun charge yesterday - putting to rest the only remaining case stemming from the racially tinged incident.
Marion Shepherd admitted to an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge that he brought a revolver to the July 24 party at which Jones, 17, died.
"I'm not a bad guy," said Shepherd, 20. "I'm sorry for bringing the gun to the party - I really am."
In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped all other charges against Shepherd, including assault. The Annapolis resident was sentenced to 18 months of probation by Judge Michael E. Loney.
Kristin Riggin, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, called the sentencing of Shepherd a positive step in what has been a terrible case. "With all the circumstances involved in this tragic matter, we felt this was the most crucial charge for a guilty finding," Riggin said.
Last month - after a jury acquitted defendant Jacob Tyler Fortney of four counts, including manslaughter, in Jones' death - Anne Arundel County prosecutor Frank R. Weathersbee dropped charges against four other men, all of whom are white. Prosecutors had previously agreed to drop charges against a fifth man, Joshua David Bradley, after he testified against Fortney.
At the same time, prosecutors decided to pursue charges against Shepherd, who is black, sparking the ire of black community leaders.
"This case highlights what I believe to be a dual justice system in Anne Arundel County," Carl O. Snowden, an NAACP member and aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens, said yesterday. "It's ironic that in a case that many said has nothing to do with race, the outcome has shown that it does. ... This decision - to charge an African-American friend of Jones - does not have the appearance of fairness."
Shepherd's attorney, William Stavros, also criticized yesterday's outcome. "I think it was easy to blame Marion," Stavros said.
He said Shepherd - who witnesses testified started the brawl when he hit someone with a handgun - has been "singled out."
"Everyone is trying to blame everything on my client, but my client is only here because he cooperated," Stavros told Loney. "He is not a thug. He is a frightened kid who made a bad decision, a kid who was scared of the same people who ended up killing Jamahl Jones."
Shepherd's probation will begin after he is released from Anne Arundel County detention center, where he is serving time for an unrelated offense.