Two teens charged as adults in the fatal attack on a cyclist in North Baltimore were convicted by a judge Monday of robbery and first-degree assault but acquitted of murder charges.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Stephen J. Sfekas, who presided over the bench trial, said it was "clear" that Antwan Eldridge, 18, and Daquan Middleton, 17, did not participate in a premeditated murder of 29-year-old Robert Ponsi.
A co-defendant — a teenager who, by a matter of months, was young enough to have his case waived to juvenile court — was alone responsible for Ponsi's killing, the judge said.
"It's clear [the juvenile defendant] was in a homicidal state of mind, and no one was expecting a knife was present or that a murder would take place," Sfekas said.
In juvenile court, where the focus is on rehabilitation rather than punishment, youths held responsible for offenses are released by their 21st birthday. The Baltimore Sun does not identify suspects whose cases are handled in juvenile court, and those proceedings are sealed.
Eldridge and Middleton — convicted of lesser offenses but tried as adults — could each face a maximum of more than 40 years in prison. Sentencing was set for Feb. 6.
Ponsi was riding his bicycle home from his job at a restaurant in Harbor East in January when a group of five to seven teens tried to scare him, Sfekas said the evidence presented at trial showed. He said Ponsi felt threatened and got off his bike, picking it up and waving it at the teens to ward them off.
The group began attacking Ponsi, and he was stabbed 11 times and slashed another six times.
Sfekas called the crime "inexplicable and cruel."
The juvenile suspect told police he was carrying the knife and had stabbed Ponsi.
Middleton and Eldridge made off with Ponsi's bike, and were caught after calling the police themselves because Middleton had been stabbed in the calf. After initially telling police they had been victims of an attack, Eldridge admitted to kicking Ponsi at least twice, while Middleton said he had "stomped" him, Sfekas said.
Sfekas said the state had not made a case that the pair had committed first- or second-degree murder.
But he said their culpability on charges of first-degree felony murder was more complicated. That charge involves a death that occurs during the course of committing a felony.
Citing case law, Sfekas said felony murder required a "common design" among the participants, and he said it couldn't be concluded that those attacking Ponsi had such a shared goal.
He said some of the people involved wanted to verbally abuse Ponsi and others may have intended to commit a robbery, but the youngest seemed intent on using the knife. Sfekas also said taking Ponsi's bike was "post facto" or after the fact.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement that prosecutors "cannot guarantee the outcome" of a case.
"I am thankful that these defendants had to go through the process and will spend time behind bars for their reckless behavior that led to an innocent man's death," the statement said.
The juvenile co-defendant, who was 15 years, 5 months old at the time of the attack, was originally charged as an adult with first-degree murder, but in September successfully petitioned to have his case sent into the juvenile system.
Prosecutors opposed sending the case to juvenile court. While the defense said the defendant, a former City College student who excelled on debate teams, had been bullied and got involved with the wrong crowd, prosecutors said he knew right from wrong and didn't have mental problems that required treatment.
In Maryland, no one 16 years or older charged with first-degree murder is eligible to have their case heard in juvenile court.
Middleton was one month away from his 17th birthday, while Eldridge was 17 years, 7 months old.