MONTGOMERY COUNTY

As Suspect Is Acquitted, Shooting Victims Protest

Ibrahim Sidibe was left paralyzed after being shot in 2002 near this Silver Spring bus stop. His best friend also was shot that Halloween night. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

On Halloween night in 2002, Ibrahim Sidibe boarded a Metro bus in Silver Spring with his pregnant fiancee and his best friend, Nicholas Watson. The fiancee mocked a teenage passenger whose earphone-clad head was bobbing back and forth, sending laughter rippling through the bus.

The trio stepped off the bus near a convenience store. Minutes later, Sidibe and Watson were shot. Francesco Kelly, the passenger at whose expense the jokes were made, was soon arrested. The fiancee, Melissa Wainwright, was not shot.

Kelly, who was 16 at the time, was found guilty in 2003 of attempted murder, but an appellate court overturned that verdict and ordered a new trial.

Last week, a jury in Montgomery County acquitted Kelly. The outcome stunned Watson and Sidibe, who were 22 and 21 at the time of the shootings.

Watson stormed out of the courtroom before the jury foreman had uttered the final "not guilty." He had a seizure and collapsed near the elevators.

Watson, who was shot seven times, said he was grateful to the state but enraged by the verdict. "The state was very compassionate, very dedicated," he said.

Sidibe, who never married Wainwright, was left paralyzed from the neck down. He was wheeled out of the courtroom after the verdict was delivered, his mind reeling.

"How could you leave a man in a wheelchair for the rest of his life and not even care about what you've done?" he recalled thinking. "I'm lying here in a diaper right now."

Kelly was arrested minutes after the shooting, and Wainwright and Watson identified him as the gunman. Prosecutors said he opened fire because he felt ridiculed. The first jury that heard the case agreed and, in 2003, convicted him of first-degree attempted murder. A judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison.

But Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled in 2005 that Kelly had not received a fair trial. A majority of the court agreed that the trial judge erred by not allowing Kelly's attorney to call two police officers to the stand. In a dissenting opinion, two judges said Kelly received a fair trial. "To reverse this case would be a travesty upon justice," they wrote.

Shortly after the jury in the latest trial announced its verdict, Kelly -- who had long-standing behavioral and substance-abuse problems, according to one of his attorneys -- walked.

The verdict surprised even the defense team, composed of a former prosecutor making his debut at the defense table and his partner, who had taken on his first criminal case.


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