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Posted at 05:17 PM ET, 06/17/2011

Md. jury acquitted defendant in murder case

It seemed that Prince George’s prosecutors had a strong, or at least a respectable, case against Randy “Juice” Sparrow, who went on trial this week on charges he murdered his stepbrother and nearly killed another man in Fort Washington in September 2008.

Two state witnesses — the surviving victim and a codefendant who had pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the state — both told jurors that Sparrow, 25, was one of the gunmen who fatally shot Andrew D. Johnson and almost killed Gregory A. “Pops” Brown. But the men offered different versions of the event, a fact that the defense stressed.

The trial lasted three days, and 120 exhibits were entered into evidence. The jury deliberated for about an hour Thursday night before acquitting Sparrow, of Southeast Washington, of all charges.

“Before the state presented its case, they should have determined who was telling the truth,” said defense attorney Christopher A. Griffiths. “You can’t put up two versions of the same event and tell the jury to decide what really happened. If the jury comes back in one hour after a murder trial that lasted nearly a week, that’s a problem.”

Griffiths called no witnesses to the stand, but he raised questions about the state’s case in his cross-examination of the two eyewitnesses and other prosecution witnesses.

David “Noodles” Smith, who pleaded guilty to murder and agreed to testify against Sparrow, testified that he drove Sparrow and a couple of other men to a residential street in Fort Washington on the night of Sept. 20, 2008.

Smith testified that Sparrow got out of the car and shot Andrew Johnson, Sparrow’s stepbrother and best friend, Griffiths said. Smith, 25, testified that he drove but did not shoot anyone. Smith testified that a homicide detective had told him that investigators believed he was the driver and didn’t shoot anyone, and that his testimony matched the investigator’s suggestion, Griffiths said.

In his closing argument, Griffiths accused police of “coaching” Smith. “They gave him every detail he needed,” Griffiths said.

Smith testified that his plea deal calls for a sentence of no more than 20 years in prison, Griffiths said.

Brown, 40, the surviving victim, testified that Sparrow and Smith both fired shots, Griffiths said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Glynn presented evidence from a cellphone expert that showed Sparrow made cellphone calls the night of the murder that pinged off two particular cellphone towers. That evidence showed Sparrow was near the scene of the murder that night, Glynn said.

But Griffiths said in his closing argument that the cellphone calls could have been made from Sparrow’s home, which is closer to the towers than the murder scene.

Two county police officers testified that when they arrived at the shooting scene, in a residential area in the 2600 block of Holly Drive, a gravely wounded Brown told them that Sparrow had shot him. Neither officer included Sparrow’s name in the written reports that included a box reserved for the names of possible suspects,Griffiths said in his closing argument.

Asked for a comment on the verdict, Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks, said, “This was a difficult and complicated case. Any time codefendants and witnesses who have been shot are involved there are risks that the jury will be unsympathetic to their testimony. We believe we put on a strong case based on evidence, civilian eyewitness testimony and cellphone records, but the jury did not agree — we must abide by their decision.”

By  |  05:17 PM ET, 06/17/2011

 
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