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Teen Acquitted Of Murder in Ballou Shooting

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2004; Page A01

A teenager who said he started shooting inside a Southeast Washington high school because he was being attacked by a notorious neighborhood rival was acquitted yesterday of murder charges in the killing of the classmate.

The jury was deadlocked on whether to convict Thomas J. Boykin of a manslaughter charge, choosing to find him guilty only of assault and weapons offenses in the Feb. 2 slaying of 17-year-old James Richardson, a star football player who led a troubled life off the field.

While attending the burial of another teenager last month, Michelle Richardson-Patterson visited the cemetery where her son, James Richardson, is buried. (Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)

_____Ballou Slaying_____
Slaying Defendant 'Panicked' (The Washington Post, Dec 7, 2004)
Ballou Shooting Was in Self-Defense, Lawyer Says (The Washington Post, Dec 1, 2004)
Students, Leaders Talk Out Troubles at Ballou High (The Washington Post, Feb 22, 2004)
Ballou Slaying Rooted In Territorial Rivalry (The Washington Post, Feb 9, 2004)
Suspect, 18, Surrenders in Slaying at Ballou (The Washington Post, Feb 4, 2004)
Teen's Dreams Lost to Lure of Streets (The Washington Post, Feb 3, 2004)

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The shooting, another episode in a violent, long-running rivalry between two sections of Southeast Washington, created pandemonium at Ballou Senior High School and led to demands for tighter security throughout the city's public schools. D.C. police since have taken over security for the school system.

Boykin, 19, who testified in his defense, will be retried in April on a charge of manslaughter before D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert I. Richter.

The acquittal on charges of first- and second-degree murder and assault with intent to kill was a blow to prosecutors, who had eyewitnesses, photo surveillance, physical evidence and Boykin's admissions about pulling the trigger.

But that was not enough to convince the 12 jurors, who deliberated almost four days -- about as long as the rest of the trial -- over what happened in a vestibule outside the Ballou cafeteria that February morning. Jurors were split, 10 to 2, in favor of a manslaughter conviction.

The mothers of Richardson and Boykin attended the trial, and both were in court for the verdict. "I know it was a life taken, and I'm so sorry," Pearl Boykin, the defendant's mother, said afterward. But she said she does not want her son's life ruined because of what happened.

"Thomas is a good child, and we're just praying . . . God will work it out," she said.

Richardson's mother declined to comment as she left the courthouse. Her son, known as J-Rock, was a running back at Ballou who dreamed of playing in the National Football League. Jurors got another view of him.

To bolster their self-defense argument, Boykin's lawyers depicted Richardson as a person Boykin would have good reason to fear. Though the jury ultimately was not persuaded that the killing was in self-defense, the tactic allowed Boykin's attorneys to shift much of the focus onto Richardson and his troubles.

A girlfriend had accused him of assaulting her at school and had obtained an order of protection against him. Gang counselors at Ballou had sought to have Richardson transferred to another school because they believed he was inflaming tensions between his fellow students from Condon Terrace and their rivals from Barry Farm. The jury also heard -- from Boykin and a friend of his -- that Richardson was rumored to have had a hand in killing a youth from Barry Farm.

One member of the jury, an 80-year-old retired warehouse supervisor, said he supported a murder conviction. He compromised to manslaughter, he said, but found that two jurors were not willing to convict even on that charge.

The juror, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, said he concluded that Boykin, who admitted striking Richardson first, was looking to make a name for himself among his friends from Barry Farm.

"I don't think that . . . a jury should send a message that you can commit murder under certain circumstances," said the man, who lives in Southeast Washington. "It's bad for the neighborhood and it's bad for the city as a whole."

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