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Plea agreement for Glen Burnie man sheds light on looming murder trial in pool party shooting

A Glen Burnie man pleaded guilty to a host of crimes Friday as part of an agreement with prosecutors that won’t be concrete until he testifies at a murder trial.

Dion Isom Sanders' admitted that he participated in a fatal shooting outside of a raucous pool party in Glen Burnie in the summer of 2019, and that he shot somebody during a home invasion two weeks earlier with the same handgun he helped hide after the homicide.

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The brazen shooting on July 5, which happened while a stampede of party-goers was leaving the private event after it was shut down, claimed the life of 29-year-old James Antonio Diggs IV, of Baltimore. Two more people were shot, apparently collateral damage.

Authorities said Sanders, 22, showed up with Jacovi Devaughn Johnson in a dark sedan as the party was winding down. Johnson was driving the rented Nissan Altima when one of the tires swiped Diggs' leg, prompting Diggs to lash out, damaging the car’s windshield, prosecutors said at Sanders' plea hearing in Annapolis Friday.

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Police have maintained that Johnson got out from the driver’s seat and unleashed a hail of about 10 shots from a handgun. A security guard at a nearby apartment complex reported seeing somebody speed in recklessly and dump something in the bushes. He found .40 caliber handgun and called police. While officers spoke to the guard, Sanders came back to retrieve the pistol.

Police arrested him on handgun charges and a judge released him days later.

Eventually police found Johnson, 22, and took him into custody. He was charged with murder, among other offenses, and is slated to stand trial Dec. 1. Sanders was later charged with being an accessory after the murder.

Friday, he appeared in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court over video link from the county jail. He pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the murder. But there was another case, too. Sanders also pleaded guilty to home invasion, two counts of felony assault and using a handgun during the commission of a felony crime of violence. Together, he faces penalties of up to 105 years in prison.

Sanders' attorney declined to comment after the proceeding.

At the time of the homicide, police detectives were investigating a home invasion and shooting. Sanders and an accomplice broke into a house in Severn. Sanders hit a man in the head with a handgun and demanded money. When that awoke a woman upstairs, and she started walking downstairs, and Sanders shot her. She was bleeding from both legs, although it’s unclear if she was struck by bullets or debris from damage caused by gunshots.

Judge Pamela Alban presided over his plea. She explained that the attorneys had worked out a deal and, if Sanders followed through with his obligations, an agreed sentence of 16 years in prison with 34 years suspended. He would have to serve five years in prison before being eligible for parole consideration. A judge could hand down the full suspended sentence if he violated probation upon release.

“Has anyone promised you anything besides the terms in that document?" Alban asked him. Sanders responded “no,” and Alban placed the agreement with prosecutors under seal.

Assistant State’s Attorney Christina Ferris asked Alban to scheduled Sanders' sentencing only after Johnson’s trial. The judge obliged.

Sanders is slated to testify at Johnson’s murder trial, according to court records. Johnson’s lawyers immediately asked prosecutors to provide them with all information which could call into question Sanders' credibility, documents known as “impeachment” material which defense attorneys are entitled to be able to confront witnesses.

Despite Sanders' youth, there should be plenty of evidence with which Johnson’s attorney can question his character and credibility. The trial, at least in part, appears slated to pit Sanders against Johnson.

It’s unclear at this time whether Johnson will take the stand in his own defense, a move that requires a defendant to relinquish their sacred right to remain silent.

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Johnson has repeatedly professed his innocence. He did so at a bail review hearing right after his arrest.

And again in a letter to Circuit Judge Michael Wachs, who’s presiding over Johnson’s case, in October 2019. Johnson offered condolences to Diggs’ family, saying he would never take a man’s life. He defended his character and said authorities had overlooked Diggs’ real killer, a man they once had in custody. He said Diggs' real killer had a history of handgun violations and a propensity for violence.

“I am not the one who committed this crime,” Johnson said in his letter.

Ferris said Friday that a ballistics expert would’ve testified that the handgun recovered in connection to Diggs' killing had fired the .40 caliber round recovered from the residence that Sanders pleaded guilty to invading. Friday, Sanders admitted to firing that gun at the woman in Severn.

After the homicide, Ferris said Sanders' hand also tested positive for gunshot residue.

Not mentioned in court was Sanders' conviction in Baltimore County for being a minor in possession of a firearm, nor his drug charges stemming from a being in a car that fled from police at high speed in February. The mad dash ended in a crash, one that Sanders' attorney himself said almost cost his client his life.

Johnson’s record is hardly spotless. He’d been convicted of two crimes before the murder charges. Both were misdemeanors; neither involved a handgun. His attorneys, both public defenders, declined to comment.

It appears prosecutors will rely on another person with a checkered past in their effort to convict Johnson of murder. Ferris said Friday that Daniel Hackley spoke to Johnson while they both were behind bars at the Jennifer Road Detention Center in Annapolis. Hackley has a lengthy criminal record in Maryland, online court records show. The 36-year-old has two pending cases in Anne Arundel for misdemeanor drug charges.

In providing relevant materials to Johnson’s attorneys, prosecutors disclosed another agreement. It was dated was Jan. 29. That day Hackley was sentenced for a felony, first-degree burglary.

Ferris said Hackley met with prosecutors at some point and told them Johnson admitted to shooting Diggs and said he planned to blame Sanders for the homicide.

In his letter to Wachs, Johnson wrote he just hoped his inquiry would prompt someone to review closely all the evidence and statements in his case.

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