A jury found 18-year-old Donte Crawford not guilty Friday of first-degree murder in the stabbing death last year of 17-year-old classmate Ananias Jolley at Baltimore Renaissance Academy.
It took jurors less than three hours of deliberations to acquit Crawford of all charges. Prosecutors had used school video surveillance of Crawford pacing in front of a classroom at the public high school on the day of the attack last November to try to convince the jury that he was lying in wait for Jolley.
Defense attorneys argued that Crawford felt bullied and afraid of Jolley, and did not intend to kill him. They described their confrontation as a scuffle that accidentally turned deadly.
Crawford was charged with first-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon with intent to harm. Jurors acquitted him of those charges, and also of second-degree murder and manslaughter. They were allowed to consider those charges after Crawford testified Friday that he acted in self-defense.
Jolley's family — including his mother, father, stepmother and grandmother — sat in the last two rows of the courtroom holding hands as the jury forewoman read the verdict.
Jolley's mother, Tiffany Jolley, began to tremble and weep. Her mother held her tight. Jolley's father sat, tears welling in his eyes.
After the jury left the courtroom, Tiffany Jolley ran out the door and down the hallway crying hysterically.
"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" she screamed. "My baby. My baby."
Crawford looked dazed as he stood up to be escorted out of the room by sheriff's deputies. Defense attorney Jonas Needleman caught him as he nearly fell onto a table.
Crawford and Jolley both were participants in Seeds of Promise, the intensive mentoring program at Baltimore Renaissance Academy.
Crawford testified that Jolley and his friends, some of them associated with the M Street Gang of McCulloh Homes, had tormented him for months. They started fights with him at school and attacked him in the neighborhood after school. He said they hounded him constantly about his mother, who he said would show up to school drunk.
Crawford said he complained to his mentor and the school's principal, Nikkia Rowe, but they did not stop the bullying.
On the day of the attack, Crawford said, Jolley and his friends had intimidated him throughout the day.
"I felt somebody was going to do something after school," he testified. "I just didn't know what. I was scared."
Tears poured down his face and he began to tremble as he described walking into the biology lab where Jolley was that November day. He said he had wanted to return a friend's cellphone, but also try and speak to Jolley. Crawford testified that he paced in front of the classroom trying to figure out if he should leave early.
He instead entered the classroom and said Jolley rushed toward him and started fighting. He tussled with Jolley and became afraid for his life.
"I tried to fight him back," Crawford said. "I just got scared and started jabbing. I had a small pocket knife and just started jabbing.
"I was trying to get him off of me," Crawford said. "I had no intention of hurting that man."
Crawford said everything was a blur, and he and Jolley fell to the ground. Crawford said he got up and started running. He said he didn't know what else to do.
"I'm no killer," Crawford said. "That's not me."
Crawford's account differed from that of Wanda Quick, the substitute teacher in the biology classroom that day. She testified Thursday that Crawford charged Jolley.
But Needleman asked whether she actually remembered it was Donte, or just what she saw on news reports.
Jolley was stabbed Nov. 24. He died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center on Dec. 20.
In closing arguments, Assistant State's Attorney Bethany Durand said Crawford was the aggressor. She said he sneaked a knife into the school past metal detectors and the pat-down all students get when entering the building.
Durand recalled the testimony of Rowe, the principal, and Antwon Cooper, Crawford's mentor, who said they believed something was wrong with Crawford that day.
When they asked him if everything was OK, they said, he brushed them off.
"Mr. Crawford had 800 different ways he could have avoided this scenario," Durand told the jury.
She told jurors not to base their decision on feelings.
"With respect to this case, even though you'll be filled with emotion … a 17-year-old boy is dead," Durand said. "There has to be a divide between your emotions and the evidence."
She walked the jury through video surveillance footage taken from the school, including a clip that showed Jolley stumbling from the classroom and bleeding.
She pointed out that Crawford looked down the hallway, as if to see if anyone was around, before entering the classroom.
"He acted on his intention to kill," Durand said. "He acted on his intention to attack."
Durand declined to comment after the verdict.
Rochelle Ritchie, spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, issued a statement via Twitter.
"This is an absolutely tragic incident that did not have to happen, especially in a school where our children attend with the expectation of learning and not being killed," she said. "We send our deepest condolences to the victim's family, who should not have had to bury their son at such a young age."
Tiffany Jolley declined to comment after the verdict.
Needleman said the state did not prove its case.
He said he did not know when his client would be released.