A Baltimore jury is deliberating the fate of a 17-year-old accused of raping and murdering his 83-year-old neighbor when he was 14, making him among city’s youngest-ever homicide suspects.
Tyrone Harvin is on trial for the 2018 sexual assault and death of Dorothy Mae Neal.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Circuit Judge Jennifer B. Schiffer dismissed jurors after they sent a note indicating that they were struggling to reach a verdict. The note said one juror was refusing to participate, Schiffer told counsel. She dismissed jurors for the day and asked them to return Wednesday to continue deliberations.
Neal was found after a neighbor called police when she had not been seen in several days. An officer found her barely breathing behind the door of her locked apartment on Winchester Street in West Baltimore, and she was taken to a hospital where she died hours later.
Inside her apartment, police and crime lab technicians found used condoms, condom wrappers and a lamp that was later determined to be the murder weapon, all of which had Harvin’s DNA and fingerprints, according to Elizabeth Stock, who prosecuted the case.
“The physical evidence tells you Tyrone Harvin did it,” she told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday morning.
The teen’s attorneys, however, have argued that the fingerprint and DNA evidence was faulty and did not prove Harvin had raped and murdered Neal, or that he was even inside her apartment at the time of the attack. They also questioned the Baltimore Police Department’s practices for processing the evidence.
“They wanted to get this solved. This was a big case,” Harvin’s public defender, Robert Linthicum, told jurors during his closing arguments.
Harvin turned 14 the same month Neal was found, and he was charged shortly after her death.
Harvin’s family said at the time of his arrest that he was innocent and had nothing to do with Neal’s death.
“I know my son wouldn’t do nothing like this. I know my son,” Harvin’s mother told The Baltimore Sun in 2018.
Harvin’s family told The Sun at the time that he had recently come off GPS monitoring for an unrelated case, and that he was doing what he was supposed to and was doing well. Harvin had been previously mistakenly charged as an adult with robbing a student at his school, Connexions Community Leadership Academy in West Baltimore.
On Tuesday, his family watched quietly as Harvin was brought into the courtroom, and as a correctional officer unlocked his handcuffs and leg shackles. He did not testify in his own defense, and remained quiet throughout the proceedings.
The state did not provide a motive, but police said previously that Harvin had been helping Neal with a chore around her home.
Linthicum told jurors Tuesday that the physical evidence presented did not meet the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The fingerprints and DNA evidence recovered from the condoms, condom wrappers and the lamp that the state said was used to bludgeon Neal was not conclusive, Linthicum said. The state was not able to prove when the wrappers ended up in Neal’s apartment.
Linthicum also questioned the use of TrueAllele, a software program that tests the probability of a DNA sample, and is “not universally accepted,” in the field, he said.
“Someone else could have been a better fit for the DNA,” Linthicum told jurors.
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But Stock said the DNA evidence by TrueAllele is a “mathematical equation” that is used to determine the “likelihood ratio” of DNA. The DNA testing in this case, she said, looked at samples recovered from the scene and found Harvin was the most likely contributor of DNA.
She said investigators used the software because of the imperfect conditions in which the evidence was recovered. Neal had been left for some time in the warm apartment, which caused the DNA evidence to degrade, Stock said.
Linthicum also questioned the efforts by the police department to test all possible evidence in the apartment, including why investigators did not further investigate another possible suspect.
A neighbor interviewed by police said she saw a 25-year-old man attempting to get inside Neal’s apartment shortly before Neal was discovered, Linthicum said. The neighbor did not positively identify Harvin as that person in a photo array.
“The issue is you got somebody else by the door with no prints,” Linthicum told jurors. “Why wasn’t there any follow-up?”
Linthicum also questioned why both of her door locks were secured and there were bars over her windows, meaning his killer would have had to lock the door with keys upon leaving. Linthicum said no keys were recovered when police searched his client’s apartment.
Stock said the defense was relying on “red herrings” and directed jurors to the conclusion that Harvin’s fingerprints were recovered on the murder weapon and condom wrappers. No other prints were found, she said, and added it was unlikely an unknown assailant used gloves and left with them but not with the murder weapon and used condoms.