An Anne Arundel County jury acquitted a Waldorf man Friday who prosecutors alleged had tried to erase a $400 drug debt by shooting a pregnant woman.
Jerold R. Burks, 22, thanked his lawyer, weeping parents and God after the jury, which had deliberated seven hours over two days, found him not guilty of attempted murder, conspiracy and related charges.
"Never for a second" did Burks' parents think he shot hairdresser Jodi Torok in the head in the foyer of her Crofton home on Oct. 27, 2008, said Darryl Burks, the defendant's father.
Anne Arundel prosecutors maintained during the four-day trial that Jerold Burks shot Torok at the behest of Charles Brandon Martin, 32, also of Waldorf.
Prosecutors contend that Martin had several girlfriends, including Torok, and was angry that the 26-year-old Torok refused to have an abortion.
Prosecutors contended that Burks grew scared when he learned that Torok survived and told his friends, one of whom later alerted police.
Assistant State's Attorney Anastasia Prigge said she was disappointed in the verdict but that it would not affect Martin's trial, scheduled to start at the end of the month.
"We believe the evidence is different with regard to the two cases," Prigge said.
Defense lawyer Robert D. Cole Jr. said a key defense witness was a person who didn't testify. Cole had blamed Steven Burnette, who was part of a circle of people linked to the case, for the crime. When Cole called Burnette to the witness stand, "he said, 'I would like to invoke the Fifth Amendment,' " according to Cole. That is the right to not incriminate oneself.
"An alternate juror described it as a bombshell," Cole said.
Jurors did not know that Burnette had said the same thing to a grand jury.
Torok, who was in a coma for several weeks after the shooting, was paralyzed, and her fetus did not survive. Torok testified that she did not recall the shooting.
The trial came close to ending in a mistrial Friday when it was learned that one juror had been doing online research into the case despite the judge's order not to read news accounts or otherwise investigate the crime.
The juror told Judge Pamela L. North in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court that he had read online that one of the prosecution witnesses, another girlfriend of Martin's, was in protective custody after Martin allegedly tried to get her to change her account that linked him to the weapon. However, North told the jury that the woman was not in protective custody.
She did not tell them that Martin was jailed to await trial because of the witness-intimidation allegation.