A Baltimore jury on Monday found a 19-year-old man guilty of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of James Blue III a little over a year ago.
Following two hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Sahiou Kargbo of premeditated murder but reached a guilty verdict on the lesser charge in the fatal Jan. 25, 2022, shooting of Blue, the husband of Baltimore Police Capt. Lekeshia Blue.
After the verdict, Blue emerged from the courtroom into a marble corridor. Surrounded by family members, she embraced the detective who led the investigation into her husband’s killing.
She declined to comment, but her late husband’s mother told reporters the family still was struggling to cope with its loss. Yet the conviction offered some measure of closure, Shelley Forbes-Eford said outside the courthouse.
“He should’ve got first-degree [murder] but I’m glad he got something,” Forbes-Eford said. “We’re looking at this as something, some justice.”
Kargbo faces more than of 40 years in prison at sentencing June 2 for the murder and three firearms offenses for which the jury found him guilty.
Barely 18 at the time of the shooting, Kargbo opened fire on Blue in the 1400 block of Walker Avenue in Northeast Baltimore around 2:40 p.m. that day. Blue, a 43-year-old Amtrak conductor and father of three, was in his car talking to his son on the phone while waiting for a refrigerator to be delivered to a home he and his wife were renovating in the Idlewood neighborhood of North Baltimore.
Ten of the 14 bullets Kargbo fired tore into Blue, injuring his head, neck and spine. He died at the Johns Hopkins Hospital about an hour after the shooting.
Kargbo’s public defender, Todd Oppenheim, opened the weeklong trial by admitting his client shot and killed Blue. In the end, the case rested largely on Kargbo’s own testimony that he saw Blue reaching for his gun during a verbal altercation. Oppenheim told jurors his client acted in self-defense.
Assistant State’s Attorney Tonya LaPolla spent much of her closing argument Monday poking holes in Kargbo’s story: For instance, the handgun Blue was wearing the day he was gunned down was discovered in a belly bag holster in the small of his back, not on his right hip, as Kargbo had told jurors.
“There’s no way what the defendant tried to sell you actually happened,” LaPolla told jurors.
Apart from Kargbo’s testimony, there was no evidence of an altercation preceding the fatal shooting.
Oppenheim asked the jury to find Kargbo not guilty of murder or manslaughter. He said Blue was the initial aggressor in the altercation, that Kargbo believed he was in imminent danger because he saw Blue reach for his gun and that his use of deadly force was appropriate because Blue was armed.
“This hits all the boxes of self-defense,” Oppenheim told jurors Monday. “It’s not pretty. It’s tragic. But it’s justified.”
On the day of the shooting, Blue had parked on the side of the street opposite his house to allow a landscaper to unload his gear.
A woman Kargbo considered an aunt lived across the street from Blue’s house. Weeks before the homicide, her house had been damaged by gunfire. Allegedly afraid about an unknown car in front of her home, she called Kargbo, who had just finished up a pair of SAT tests at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School. In response to her call, he left school and drove to the North Baltimore neighborhood in a stolen car.
Kargbo testified he approached Blue’s car and asked why he was parked in front of his aunt’s house. Blue cursed Kargbo away, but Kargbo said he persisted. Kargbo said Blue reached for his gun.
A city firearms examiner testified all 14 cartridge casings collected from the crime scene were fired by a handgun that Baltimore County police, investigating an unrelated armed robbery, confiscated from Kargbo’s house the day after Blue’s killing.
Eugene Secola, a retired correctional officer hired by Blue for yardwork, testified he looked up from his lawn mower and saw a masked male approaching Blue’s Honda from behind, pointing a handgun. Secola said the gunman started firing from behind the car, continuing to shoot as he maneuvered to the front.
When Blue collapsed out of the car, the shooter stood over him and fired two or three more rounds, Secola told the jury.
“What was he thinking as he stood over him, took aim and pulled the trigger, pulled the trigger, pulled the trigger,” LaPolla said. “That is the definition of willful, deliberate, premeditated murder.”
During his testimony, Kargbo denied shooting Blue the way Secola said he did. The medical examiner’s report said “there was no visible evidence of close range firing in any” of Blue’s gunshot wounds.
Oppenheim accused prosecutors of overcharging the case because of Blue’s connections to the police department, questioning officers throughout the trial about anything in this case that diverged from protocol.
Blue’s widow, who was a lieutenant at the time of his killing and has several relatives who also work for the police department, was the first witness to testify. Lekeshia Blue was defiant and firm in the face of pointed questions from Oppenheim.
“I didn’t flash it. I displayed it,” she said of using her department ID to gain access to the crime scene, leaning into the mic as she elaborated on her conversations at the crime scene. “I asked, ‘Where was my husband? Where is my husband? Where is my husband?!’”
Blue’s mother and his sister, Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Baltimore Partnership, remembered him as a doting father and a hard worker.
“He did not deserve this,” Forbes-Eford said. “He loved his family. He loved me. He loved his sister. He was like a protector to all of us. There wasn’t nothing he wouldn’t do for us.”
Just the other day, they asked Blue’s 10-year-old daughter what she missed most about her dad, Forbes-Eford said.
“You know what she said? She said she missed everything. And that’s what it is, we miss everything about him — everything,” she said. “It’s a pain that never goes away.”
During closing arguments, LaPolla dismissed Oppenheim’s claim about Blue’s police connections tainting the case as a red herring, pointing out testimony from detectives assigned to the case explaining that they kept information about the investigation within their squad.
After Kargbo testified, Dr. Vincent Culotta, a neuropsychologist, told the jury about a range of psychological tests he conducted on the teen for the public defender’s office.
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Kargbo’s IQ tested in the second or third percentile, meeting the criteria for diagnosing an intellectual disability, Culotta said. Despite being close to graduating from high school, Kargbo read, wrote and did math at a fourth or fifth grade level.
His “executive function,” which Culotta said was “very important in how we navigate the world and respond to things,” graded in the 0.02 percentile. Despite his scores, Culotta said, Kargbo “is good at putting on a veneer of ‘I have it together.’”
Kargbo, who emigrated with his mother from Gambia as a child, held a job boxing orders at Amazon and went to school. He rented a stolen car from a man on the street and obtained two handguns and an extended “drum” magazine capable of holding 50 rounds.
Detectives were charmed by his politeness while interrogating him, according to videos of the interviews played at trial.
Even if jurors questioned whether Kargbo’s use of deadly force was reasonable, Oppenheim said, the law says he was justified to shoot and kill if he really believed he was in danger, among other factors. Oppenheim said the teen’s intellectual disability meant his perception of danger was skewed.
LaPolla had just one question for Culotta during cross-examination: “Would [Kargbo’s] low IQ cause him to kill people?”
“No,” the doctor responded.