From left, Eugene Genius IV, Derrick Matthews, and Darrell Ward have pleaded guilty to felony murder in the death of Baltimore County police Officer Amy Caprio.
From left, Eugene Genius IV, Derrick Matthews, and Darrell Ward have pleaded guilty to felony murder in the death of Baltimore County police Officer Amy Caprio. (Baltimore County police)

The three remaining teenagers charged in the death of Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio pleaded guilty Monday to felony murder charges.

Darrell Ward, 16, Eugene Genius IV, 19, and Derrick Matthews, 17, entered their pleas in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Under their plea deals, each faces 30 years in prison. They each would have faced life sentences if convicted at trial.

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Family of the teens filled the courtroom to hear them plead guilty to murder. The charges stemmed from their roles in a string of home burglaries that led to the 29-year-old officer being run over by a fourth teen in their group in May 2018.

Caprio was the first Baltimore County officer to die in the line of duty in six years.

The teens wore solemn faces throughout the hearing and glanced into the gallery at their family occasionally who nodded in support.

Deputy State’s Attorney Robin Coffin said Monday’s plea provided a sense of justice for Caprio and her family.

“The plea was thought out long and hard with the state and the family,” Coffin said. “We feel for these three, this is the right plea and the family is pleased that part of this chapter is over.”

Last month, a jury convicted a fourth teen of felony murder in Caprio’s death. In the trial for Dawnta Harris, 17, prosecutors argued he was the getaway driver for the three teens, who were not in the vehicle when he was confronted by Officer Caprio. As Caprio pointed her service weapon at Harris and ordered him to stop the stolen Jeep, Harris accelerated and ran over the officer in a suburban cul-de-sac.

Prosecutors are seeking life in prison for Harris, who is scheduled for sentencing July 23. His defense attorneys did not dispute that he killed Caprio.

The case against the other three, however, was less certain. Prosecutors said Ward, Genius and Matthews were not in the Jeep when Harris ran over her.

Coffin said Harris is in a “far different position” than the three teens but that they ultimately were all in it together.

“They were all participating in a burglary that was inherently dangerous,” Coffin said. “There was no question — she (Caprio) was killed so they could escape.”

The teens were charged under the felony murder law, which applies to a felony crime resulting in a death. Everyone who committed the felony crime also may be held responsible for the murder — whether or not they were directly involved in the death. The three teens had been scheduled for trial in September.

Family members declined to comment after the guilty plea. But throughout the hearing, many of them dabbed their eyes and choked back tears. At times, some of them left the courtroom briefly, overwhelmed with emotion.

After Judge Jan Marshall Alexander accepted the pleas, one family member rocked back and forth on the wooden bench with her hands buried in her lap.

When the judge first asked Matthews if he wanted to accept the plea deal, the teen said “no.”

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The judge asked Matthews if he had spoken with his attorney because if he didn’t accept the plea, he could face life in prison. The teen pleaded guilty when asked for a second time.

Derrick G. Hamlin, Genius’ attorney, said the teen made his decision about the deal this morning. He said his client wanted to accept responsibility but had a hard time with the characterization of the charges because he wasn’t in the Jeep when Caprio was killed.

“I don’t think anybody can be happy with this,” Hamlin said of the deal. “I appreciate that the state made an offer, but the offer doesn’t reflect what they (the teens) did.”

Hamlin added that his goal from the beginning was to make sure Genius did not get life in prison.

Caprio’s murder set off a firestorm of debate. She was white; the four teens, black. Defense attorneys and prosecutors spoke of their regret that public discussion around the case had regressed into something of an online lynch mob.

Hamlin said there was no way for the teens to know that a burglary would lead to a death.

The three teens will be back in court September 16 for their sentencing hearing. Defense attorneys asked for it to be after Harris receives his sentence.

The officer of four years had been called to investigate a suspicious Jeep in Perry Hall when she encountered Harris behind the wheel. Caprio blocked his way out with her patrol car, jumped out and ordered him to stop. The Jeep sped toward her and she drew her gun, screaming, “Stop! Stop!”

Harris stopped the Jeep and cracked the door as if to surrender. Caprio’s body camera recorded their confrontation. Then he ducked down and gunned the Jeep. She fired once through the windshield — she missed him — before he ran her over.

An assistant medical examiner testified that Caprio suffered broken ribs and crushed internal organs. Neighbors testified that they found the officer in the street bleeding with tire marks on her legs. A young wife, she graduated from Loch Raven High School and Towson University.

Condolences poured in from around the world. Caprio was praised for her courage in staring down the oncoming Jeep and forcing Harris to stop — if only for a moment.

Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Jean Marbella and Lillian Reed contributed to this article.

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