Following an eight-day trial and nearly eight hours of deliberation Wednesday, an 18-year-old Washington man was found not guilty of killing Christian Parada, an Annapolis teenager found dead in his Admiral Oaks apartment in September 2021.
Daniel Fletcher, 16 at the time of Parada’s death, was facing a life sentence, but a jury found him not guilty of first- and second-degree murder, as well as three misdemeanor gun offenses.
“The jury was faced with some really difficult decisions,” said David Putzi, Fletcher’s attorney. “The way they did their job, I think, was amazing, upholding our rule of law in this country. This case was not about whether there were suspicions my client was involved; they held the state to their burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“I’m sure it was not an easy decision,” Putzi added, “but it was the right decision.”
On Sept. 10, 2021, Parada was found in his bedroom by a group of neighbors, including a 13-year-old boy, before firefighters and police responded to the scene. Local residents and first responders testified that they initially thought the death was the result of an overdose, due to the condition of the body. As police continued their investigation, however, a bullet was found in Parada’s cap and a spent shell casing was found on his bed.
Parada had been shot in the head.
Detectives were familiar with both Parada and Fletcher through an investigation involving a stolen weapon, according to court filings. An arrest warrant was issued on Sept. 20, nine days after the killing, and Fletcher was apprehended at his mother’s home in Washington.
In interviews with police, Fletcher claimed his innocence dozens of times, although he identified himself in security footage as the last person to enter Parada’s apartment before the body was found. According to charging documents, Fletcher also said he was carrying a gun at the time.
“Today, justice was not served with this verdict which went against the weight of the evidence,” Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said in a statement.
Assistant state’s attorneys Katherine Anthony and Brian Pritchard prosecuted the case on behalf of the state.
“My thoughts are with this young man,” Leitess said of the victim, “and for the many young people who fall victim to gun violence by those who have no regard for human life.”
Though Fletcher was the last person seen entering Parada’s front door, text messages presented in court showed Parada had used a window on the front side of the building as an entrance for guests. In one instance, days before he died, he told Fletcher he could stay at his apartment and enter through the front window, which Parada left unlocked while visiting with a family member. No surveillance cameras were pointed in the direction of the front window, which was accessible on the ground.
Putzi described Parada and his client as good friends, refuting the state’s argument that Fletcher had killed him as retribution for wanting to leave the Bloods gang. A found text message exchange between the two signaled Parada’s intent to leave the Bloods, but Putzi said subsequent messages indicated the two had made up.
The defense also challenged the prosecution’s timeline for Parada’s death. While the apartment’s security camera recording appeared to corroborate cellphone data showing the victim had not communicated with anyone after 12:56 a.m., the state of Parada’s body when examined by officials, including discoloration of the skin, established a time frame of six hours after Fletcher had left in which the teenager could have died.
Both the prosecutors and the defense acknowledged some of the challenges Parada was facing at home. Living by himself in an apartment infested with roaches and struggling for money, the 17-year-old was described as depressed by at least two friends who testified in the trial.
An autopsy however, found Parada’s death to be a homicide, based on the angle of the bullet wound and a lack of residue on Parada’s skin that is generally typical of a close-range gunshot. No weapon was found at the crime scene, another factor Dr. Theodore King of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office said “was not typical” of a homicide.
Parada’s death was one of 22 homicides investigated in both Anne Arundel County and Annapolis in 2021. Last year, that number dropped to 16, with all but one involving a firearm. Police have identified or charged a suspect in seven of the 16 cases. With no other suspect named, Parada’s case will become another open case.
After the jury reached its verdict, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Richard Trunnell told Fletcher he “highly recommends” the young man consider changing course with his renewed freedom. Wednesday’s verdict was “God giving you a second chance,” Trunnell said.