Two key witnesses in the fatal shooting of the nephew of a city judge have recanted their statements on the witness stand - leaving the prosecutor with no physical evidence and one unwavering eyewitness to the killing, the victim's best friend.
Tevon Allen, 19, is on trial this week on a charge of first-degree murder in the July 2007 killing of Jordan Brown, the nephew of Baltimore District Judge Videtta A. Brown, in a case that has been a test from the start.
In opening statements, prosecutor Lisa Phelps warned jurors that two witnesses might change their stories. The two, friends of the accused, came to testify in leg irons. One was serving a sentence for an armed robbery in Montgomery County, and a judge jailed the other to ensure his testimony.
"On television, you see a steady parade of people coming into the police station to say what happened," Phelps told jurors. "That's TV and not real life."
If one of the witnesses is to be believed, at least five people were near the corner of Rokeby Road and Swann Avenue in West Baltimore when the shooting occurred. But "no one stepped up and said anything," Phelps said.
Only by aggressively canvassing the neighborhood - "relying on word on the street," as Phelps put it - were detectives able to identify two possible witnesses, who then identified Allen. The driver of the car, Brown's friend, also identified Allen in a photo array.
Police and prosecutors say they believe that Brown was killed because the car he was in happened to pass by a drug corner four times in a short span. Authorities say that Allen, fearing his turf was being threatened, opened fire on the car, hitting Brown, 21, the front-seat passenger, in the neck.
To get that account, Detective Bryan Kershaw interrogated one of the witnesses for several hours, according to tape recordings played in court yesterday.
At first, one witness said he was working at a McDonald's on U.S. 40 the night of the killing. Kershaw contacted the manager and obtained payroll records. The witness was not working.
When confronted with the payroll sheet, the witness changed his story, saying he "didn't know anything about" the shooting. After Kershaw threatened him with charges, the witness' story changed again. He was present "right before the shooting."
After Kershaw increased the ante, naming those potential charges, such as first-degree murder, the witness said he heard the gunshots. And when the detective pressed further, the witness named Allen.
The motive: The driver had been "riding around too many times," the witness told Kershaw.
According to Phelps, the driver passed by the corner the first time to pick up Brown and his mother at a relative's house; the second time to drop off Brown's mother at her house; a third time on his way to a nearby Shell station; and a fourth and final time on the way back.
On the stand yesterday, the witness said he was just telling the detective what he wanted to hear. He said Kershaw was hollering during the interrogation; that he was frightened; that he felt threatened; and that he identified Allen because he "didn't want to get locked up for it."
The other witness had recanted the day before.
The trial continues today, when Brown's friend is expected to testify.