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Crime

Lawyers offer opening arguments in murder trial of Annapolis man accused in Naval Academy mom’s shooting death

Attorneys delivered opening arguments to jurors and began calling witnesses Tuesday morning in the murder trial of the Annapolis man charged in the 2021 shooting death of a woman visiting the city for her son’s induction into the U.S. Naval Academy.

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Michelle Cummings, 57, the mother of Navy football player Trey Cummings, was sitting on the patio of The Graduate Hotel in Annapolis on June 29 with a group of fellow Navy parents when she was struck and killed by a stray bullet, according to court filings.

Police identified Angelo Harrod, 31, as the shooter. They say that Harrod, as well as several accomplices who have not been named, had been following around a couple, R.J. Atwell and Breonna Barnes, who were on a date that night in Annapolis. Police believe Harrod and an accomplice opened fire on the couple, and one of the bullets struck and killed Cummings, who was visiting with her husband from their home in Houston.

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Harrod is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the gunfire aimed at Atwell and Barnes. He has been held without bail since being arrested in July 2021. The trial, being heard by Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Pamela K. Alban, is scheduled to continue through Dec. 19.

Hours after the shooting, police arrested Harrod on an open warrant hours and later charged him with murder.

In the gallery of a Anne Arundel Circuit courtroom Tuesday, Leonard “Truck” Cummings, the victim’s husband, sat with family and friends and later was joined by witnesses who testified in the case. Across the aisle, Harrod exchanged pleasantries with his family members during breaks.

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When the Cummings family traveled to Annapolis, the parents had recently celebrated a wedding anniversary and were “beaming with pride” for their youngest son, Trey, who was about to be inducted into the academy after graduating from the Naval Academy Prep School, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Carolynn Grammas, who is prosecuting the case with Jason Steinhardt.

“The Cummings family had a plan,” for their future, Grammas told jurors.

On June 28, the Cummings dropped off their son and went to The Graduate to meet with family friends also in town for Induction Day, picking up Class of 2025-themed T-shirts and enjoying each other’s company during the evening.

On the hotel patio around midnight, they sat and talked about their children, Grammas said.

Nearby, meantime, in the Clay Street area, two Annapolis residents were on a date. Barnes and Atwell had only been dating for a week at that point, Grammas said, and they spent the evening with Barnes’ cousin before getting ice cream together. Barnes parked at the end of Pleasant Street to drop off Atwell.

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Grammas said that once Barnes had parked, her ex-boyfriend called. She stepped out of the car and heard someone call her name before counting down from five, and then gunfire.

Prosecutors say a group of men, including Harrod, had been following Barnes and Atwell throughout the evening, unbeknownst to the couple. Grammas did not say during her opening statement why Harrod would have been following the couple, or why he and his unnamed accomplice opened fire. She did not name the other shooter, noting that his face was obstructed by a dumpster in video footage from the shooting.

Prosecutors and police also offered no further information about the ex-boyfriend, who they say called Barnes moments before the shooting.

Investigators say several shots hit Barnes’ car, while one traveled toward the patio, striking Michelle Cummings in the upper chest. She was declared dead at the scene.

Defense attorney Howard Cardin told jurors the prosecution would be presenting about 38 minutes of recorded footage – from city, county and private cameras – and noted the clips had been cut together to present “what the state wants you to see.” He said he would show the jury that throughout the Annapolis Police Department’s investigation of the case, evidence has been “arranged in such a way to attack or get” Harrod.

While Harrod was first charged in the death of Cummings, investigators later discovered two guns were involved in the shooting, Cardin said.

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“That destroyed the initial theory of the shooting,” Cardin said. “Who shot, who killed Mrs. Cummings? The state doesn’t know. The state will tell you they don’t know.”

Cardin urged jurors to “listen, look and scrutinize” holes in the case where prosecutors have not answered major questions. He told jurors that if they are left with open questions once they go to deliberate, they should find Harrod not guilty.

“You as the jurors should have all the evidence,” Cardin said. “Look at this case. Look at what is there, and what is not there.”

Prosecutors called their first round of witnesses Tuesday morning.

Schavonda and Sean Johnson, two Dallas residents who met the Cummings family during a layover while their children were attending the Naval Academy Preparatory School, testified that they were on the patio with Cummings when they heard a series of shots that they first believed were firecrackers.

They ducked behind a brick wall and noticed Cummings laying face down on the ground.

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“I just started running, like crawling, toward the hotel entrance,” Schavonda Johnson testified. She said she wasn’t sure if they were being targeted and called 911 on a front desk phone once she made it to the lobby.

Prosecutors also began calling first responders from the Annapolis police and fire departments as witnesses on Tuesday afternoon. They also called officers who specialize in cellphone data extraction and the city’s network of CCTV cameras.

The trial continues Wednesday at 9 a.m.


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