Jurors Debate Murder Charge Against Youth, 14

By Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006

Armed with pistols tucked in their waistbands, two young teenage brothers traveled to a trendy Alexandria neighborhood last summer "locked, loaded and ready," a prosecutor said yesterday.

"They were ready for action," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Karin Riley told an Alexandria jury in her closing arguments in the murder case against Malik Byrd, 14.

"They were going to a local [recreation] center and they armed themselves with loaded guns," Riley continued. "Most kids take basketballs, but not these kids."

At 14, Malik is among the youngest defendants ever tried in the state for a homicide.

Malik, who lives in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Al-Rahn Powell, 18, who was fatally shot July 29 on heavily traveled Mount Vernon Avenue in the Del Ray neighborhood. Yesterday, a Circuit Court jury began deliberating the homicide and firearms charges against him and is scheduled to resume deliberations this morning.

According to testimony, the late-afternoon slaying was the culmination of a tense exchange between Malik and his brother, Marquis Byrd, 16, and Powell and another teenager.

During the three-day trial, prosecutors relied most on Malik's admission that he fired the fatal shot at Powell, as well as witness testimony that the brothers traded words and then struggled with Powell and his friend, Dennis Wise, 19.

"At worst, this was going to be a fistfight," Riley said. "But you can't bring a gun to a fistfight."

Powell and Wise, who were riding bikes when they came upon the brothers, were not armed, according to testimony.

The altercation lasted just seconds, witnesses testified, before Marquis pulled out a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and fired a shot into the air.

Wise tackled Marquis, and as the two struggled, more shots were fired, two of which struck Wise in the leg, according to testimony.

Malik, armed with a .32-caliber handgun, "drew his revolver, dropped it, picked it up again and pointed it at [Powell] and shot him in the side of his head," Riley said, before Malik ran from the chaotic, bloody scene.

But Malik had no intention of shooting Powell, who died at a hospital several days later, said Douglas Steinberg, Malik's attorney. On the afternoon of the attack, Malik was a "14-year-old boy in a situation . . . where he heard a shot and he fired in return. He had no idea who had fired that first shot."

"What occurred, by any definition, was a tragedy," Steinberg told the jury in his closing argument, adding that his client fired in self-defense. "Not every tragedy is a murder."

But for jurors to agree that Malik shot Powell to protect himself and his brother, they would have to believe that Malik had a reasonable fear for his life. And according to Malik's testimony, the youth "did not reasonably apprehend death or serious injury," Riley said.

"Evidence does not support that, although his lawyer will say that it's okay for anyone, never mind a 14-year-old kid, to shoot in self-defense," Riley told the jury. "But if the law allowed that, we would be living in a society more akin to the Wild West of 1806 than the civilized society of 2006."

Court records show that the July slaying was not Malik's first crime. In April 2005, when he was 13, Malik was charged with assaulting a girl and firing a shot into the air. He was convicted as a juvenile and put on probation, the records show.

Marquis Byrd is scheduled to go on trial in two weeks on the same charges.

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