A teenager on trial for his role in a knife attack on another teen outside a Columbia mall should not face an attempted-murder charge because he was not the one who stabbed the victim, the defendant's attorney argued yesterday.
The only crime committed by Cordero Dante Taylor, 16, was drug possession, Taylor's attorney, Gabriel A. Terrasa, said during opening statements in Howard County Circuit Court.
Taylor is one of two teens charged in the January attack on Julian Lichtenstein, a Baltimore County resident who was stabbed several times after a drug deal went bad in the parking lot of The Mall in Columbia.
A resident of Forestville in Prince George's County, Taylor also is charged with attempted second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, carrying a concealed weapon and reckless endangerment.
"None of these crimes, except for maybe the simple possession, were committed by Mr. Taylor," Terrasa told Judge Richard S. Bernhardt during his opening statement. "There's simply no evidence of willful deliberation or premeditation on the part of Mr. Taylor."
Prosecutors countered that the first-degree attempted-murder charge is warranted because Taylor was a co-conspirator in the crime and should be held equally responsible.
In the late afternoon of Jan. 8, Lichtenstein had arranged to sell marijuana to Taylor and Bernardo Leconte outside the J.C. Penney store at the mall, Lichtenstein testified yesterday. But after a quarrel over the quality of the drugs broke out, Leconte put the marijuana in his pocket and refused to pay for it, Lichtenstein said.
After Lichtenstein said, "I got you," and turned to summon a friend for help, Leconte, 18, a Columbia resident, pulled out a red-handled pocket knife. Lichtenstein, who testified to having been high on marijuana when he arrived at the mall, then struck Leconte in the face.
Accounts differ as to what happened next. Lichtenstein said Taylor shoved him into the knife, but Terrasa said that Taylor pushed Lichtenstein away because he was coming too close.
Terrasa also said that after Lichtenstein attempted to flee, Leconte, not Taylor, stabbed the victim repeatedly, even as he was lying injured in the grass and had given up his wallet. Lichtenstein was flown by helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he underwent surgery.
Minutes after the stabbing, police arrested Leconte near a footbridge off U.S. 29. They arrested Taylor in the stairwell of an apartment building, where they found Lichtenstein's wallet, along with a wad of cash and more drugs.
In her opening statement, Assistant State's Attorney Susan Weinstein said Lichtenstein was stabbed seven times in the torso and once in the arm. The top of one kidney was cut off and a major artery was cut, Weinstein said.
Police officers and witnesses also testified for the state, including a 13-year-old boy who said he was riding his bicycle with friends outside the mall and saw the incident.
A fire captain who rendered medical aid said Lichtenstein had an abdominal evisceration, meaning the contents of his abdominal cavity were protruding through the wound.
A police officer who first arrived at the scene testified that Lichtenstein's face was blue, saying, "You could tell that he was dying."
The defense will present its witnesses in the case today, and the trial is expected to conclude today or tomorrow. Leconte's trial is scheduled for Sept. 2. Charges include first- and second-degree attempted murder, armed robbery, and first-degree assault.