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Jury to decide fate of 15-year-old charged in teen girl's murder

Raeshawn Rivers has been charged with murder in the death of 16-year old Arnesha Bowers. He is the third suspect arrested in the case, in which Bowers' body was found in a burning home.
Raeshawn Rivers has been charged with murder in the death of 16-year old Arnesha Bowers. He is the third suspect arrested in the case, in which Bowers' body was found in a burning home. (Baltimore police)

Prosecutors told jurors Tuesday that a 15-year-old boy charged in the brutal murder of a teenage girl in Northeast Baltimore last year was just as culpable as the two men who directed the plot and carried out the killing.

"We don't contend that, with his own bare hands, Raeshawn Rivers killed Arnesha Bowers," Assistant State's Attorney Sharon Holback said in closing arguments. "We do contend that because of everything he did … he is equally responsible for the murder as the man who in fact killed her, and … the man who ordered her death."

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Rivers' defense attorney, Roya Hanna, countered that Rivers was "helpless" to intervene.

"Mr. Rivers was 14. [Co-defendant] Adonay [Dixon] was 24," Hanna said. "What was he to do? He was completely and utterly helpless."

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Jurors will begin deliberating Monday, after being given a break for the Thanksgiving holiday. They will have to review complicated jury instructions dealing with the culpability of accomplices and what constitutes acting under duress.

Before closing arguments, Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill dismissed rape and kidnapping charges against Rivers. Charges including first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, arson, robbery, false imprisonment and related counts remain.

Prosecutors say Rivers was a willing participant in a plot to burglarize Bowers' grandmother's home that went awry when she discovered the crime in progress. The case was initially charged as a gang-related killing, but authorities have since backed away from that contention.

"This is not a gang murder … it is a spontaneous mess," Holback told jurors.

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A co-defendant, Adonay Dixon, pleaded guilty two weeks ago to directing the crime. His agreement with the state calls for him to receive a sentence of life in prison, with all but 50 years suspended.

Dixon testified that he wanted to steal Bowers' iPhone, and Rivers -- who Bowers had a crush on -- was to distract her as he and another man rifled through the home. The plot at one point appeared to have fizzled, with Dixon and co-defendant John Childs -- who has also pleaded guilty -- leaving.

But when Dixon and Childs broke into the home, they were discovered by Bowers. Dixon testified that Bowers was not upset, and the three hung out with her and she fed them. Dixon claimed that at one point he picked up a meat tenderizer and flipped it to Childs, who surprised everyone when he used to hit Bowers over the head repeatedly.

Holback said Rivers "did nothing" to stop the attack or object.

Instead, Dixon instructed Childs to finish her off and began stealing items from the home along with Rivers. Bowers was strangled with a cord and raped, prosecutors have said. Dixon said Rivers helped him set the home on fire to destroy evidence.

In his statement to police, Rivers, who initially denied being present, told detectives Dixon had brandished a gun and threatened him. Hanna challenged prosecutors' contention that Rivers could have left.

"Could he though? Could he?" said Hanna, a longtime city homicide prosecutor trying her first murder case as a defense attorney. "If he walked out of that house, Adonay Dixon would know he's going to call police."

Hanna said police told Rivers before his second interview that they considered him a witness and could get him into protection, but he was charged after that interview. She said those offers of protection amounted to coercion.

She also said Dixon had received a favorable sentence despite orchestrating the incident.

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