Neighbor of girl slain in 2002 testifies in sentence hearing

The Baltimore Sun

When Jamaal K. Abeokuto knocked on his neighbor's door one afternoon in December 2002 after locking his keys in his girlfriend's apartment, the neighbor told him not to bother calling his girlfriend at work.

Instead, Jimella Robinson testified yesterday at Abeokuto's capital sentencing hearing, she suggested he go across the street to Northwood Elementary School and retrieve the key that his girlfriend's 8-year-old daughter kept on a black shoestring around her neck.

"He said he was in a hurry," Robinson testified. "He needed to get his books for school."

The exchange between Abeokuto and his neighbor on Dec. 3, 2002 -- the day Marciana Ringo disappeared -- is significant, authorities contend, because only the person who killed the girl would have known that she was not in school that day.

Robinson was one of nearly a dozen witnesses called yesterday at the resentencing hearing of Abeokuto, a 27-year-old Baltimore man who was convicted and sentenced to death in the kidnapping and killing of Marciana. The death sentence was overturned last year by Maryland's highest court, which granted Abeokuto a new sentencing hearing.

The jurors now considering whether to sentence Abeokuto to death or life in prison must first determine that he committed first-degree murder. As such, prosecutors are essentially presenting the entire case again.

After telling the neighbor that he was in too much of a hurry to go to Marciana's school, Abeokuto called a cab and made the trip from Baltimore to Towson, where his girlfriend worked on the housekeeping staff of Goucher College, Robinson testified.

There, Abeokuto borrowed his girlfriend's key and ATM card to let himself back into the apartment and get money to pay the cabdriver, Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly told jurors Thursday in his opening statement. He was still wearing a pair of blue jeans stained with Marciana's blood, the prosecutor said.

Defense attorneys have acknowledged the terrible nature of the killing but asked jurors to withhold judgment until they know more about Abeokuto, who they say suffers from a paranoid personality disorder.

Marciana was missing for nine days before two middle school boys found her body in the woods near Joppatowne.

The murder case was moved from Harford to Baltimore County after Abeokuto requested a venue change. The sentencing hearing is scheduled to continue through next week.

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