Though he was acquitted of attempted murder, a teenager accused in a knife attack on another teen at the Mall in Columbia was convicted yesterday of first-degree assault in Howard County court.
Cordero Dante Taylor, 16, could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for his role in the knifing of Julian Lichtenstein, 17, in the JC Penney parking lot in January.
Although Circuit Judge Richard S. Bernhardt conceded that Taylor's friend, Bernardo Leconte, stabbed Lichtenstein, he ruled that state law holds a person who aids and abets an assault equally responsible.
Bernhardt, however, granted the defense's motion to acquit Taylor of all other charges he faced, including attempted first- and second-degree murder, carrying a concealed weapon and reckless endangerment.
According to prosecutors, Lichtenstein agreed to sell marijuana to Leconte, an 18-year-old Columbia resident, and Taylor outside the JC Penney during the late afternoon Jan. 8. Bickering ensued, and Leconte pulled out a pocket knife. Lichtenstein testified that he punched Leconte in the face as Taylor stood nearby.
After hearing conflicting accounts of what happened next, the judge said he concluded that Taylor struck Lichtenstein to prevent him from leaving the fight. Taylor followed as Leconte chased Lichtenstein and stood by as Leconte stabbed the teen while he lay in the grass, the judge said.
Despite the defense attorney's attempt to discredit Lichtenstein and state witness Matt Lilly based on their admitted drug use the day of the stabbing, Bernhardt said he found their testimony credible.
Lilly, who watched the attack, testified that he had taken 40 Robitussin tablets around 11 a.m. the day of the stabbing and felt like a "zombie."
Lichtenstein testified that just before going to the mall, he smoked a hollowed-out cigar filled with marijuana, which is known as a blunt.
Defense attorney Gabriel A. Terrasa maintained throughout the 11/2-day bench trial that Taylor did not know of Leconte's intent to stab Lichtenstein and that he should hold no responsibility in the assault.
"Mr. Taylor had no duty to defend Mr. Lichtenstein," Terrasa told the judge. "When he backed away, he basically explained that he didn't want to be harmed."
Prosecutors countered that Taylor knew a fight was ensuing and yet continued to follow Leconte as he chased Lichtenstein, even after he had already stabbed the Baltimore County teen several times.
"He knew there was going to be an attack ... and his job at that point was to be sure Julian didn't get away," assistant state's attorney James Dietrich said in his closing statements.
In his verdict, Bernhardt described Lichtenstein's injuries as leaving "significant and horrific scarring."
Lichtenstein, who was flown by helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, began to turn blue after being stabbed at least eight times in the torso, arm and shoulder, according to testimony. The top of one his kidneys was cut off, and the contents of his abdominal cavity was protruding from a wound when paramedics arrived, according to prosecutors and first responders who testified Monday.
Lichtenstein, who graduated from Pikesville High School in the spring, testified that he stayed at Shock Trauma for nearly a month recovering from his injuries and expects to undergo one more surgery.
Despite the judge's decision to acquit Taylor of all but the one charge, prosecutors said that they respected it and were not disappointed with the verdict.
"I think the judge fully explained his reason," said assistant state's attorney Susan Weinstein. "I think that it was a just verdict."
Terrasa and co-counsel Craig M. Gendler declined to comment after the trial. Taylor's mother, Shuree, also did not comment.
Taylor is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 1.
Leconte's trial is set for Sept. 2. He is charged with attempted first- and second-degree murder, armed robbery and several other counts.