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Jurors Cite Weaknesses in Murder Case
Defendant Acquitted of Slaying in 2007 Fort Washington Liquor Store Holdup

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2008

In a Prince George's County courtroom Thursday evening, the court clerk recited each of the charges against Joseph L. Caulfield, accused of killing a convenience store clerk in Fort Washington last year.

It took a full minute for the jury foreman to utter "not guilty" for each charged offense, 13 in all, including first-degree murder.

On one side of the spectators' gallery, the brother of the victim looked down at his shoes, his expression stony. Twenty feet to his left, Caulfield's mother and sister sat together, their faces betraying no emotion.

Caulfield wept openly as the "not guilty" verdicts piled up.

He was acquitted in the highly publicized Jan. 27, 2007, killing of Seong Hoon No, 32, who was fatally shot during a robbery by two gunmen at Fort Washington Liquors. No worked at the family-owned store with his brother, Seong Yoel No, 34, who was wounded in the attack.

"I can't believe what happened," No said after the verdict. "It's difficult. It's never over for us."

Two jurors said the state's case was weak.

"Nothing linked [Caulfield] to the crime," said one juror, a 43-year-old woman who declined to provide her name, saying she wanted to guard her privacy.

Another juror said cellphone records introduced by the defense raised doubts. The records showed that right before, during and right after the attack, four calls were made on the phone Caulfield used. Cellphone records suggested that the person with the phone was not in Fort Washington, defense attorneys said.

The records raised questions as to whether Caulfield was at the scene of the crime, said the juror, a 32-year-old man who also declined to provide his name.

The jurors also noted that state witnesses testified that the taller of the two attackers was about 5 feet 11 inches tall. Caulfield is 6 feet 4 inches tall.

State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey's spokesman, Ramon Korionoff, said in an e-mail that the jury apparently did not believe the testimony of the state's key witness, Caulfield's father, who testified that he had identified his son from a store security videotape.

Caulfield's co-defendant, Zachary A. Johnson, 25, of White Plains, is scheduled to go on trial June 24.

No testified that what had been a typical Saturday afternoon erupted into violence when two men wearing ski masks entered the store on Old Fort Road. One, armed with a shotgun, ordered No and his brother to lie down.

The second man, who had a handgun, went into a back office to look for a safe, though the store had no safe, No said.

With one of the gunmen in the back office, No said, he and his brother struggled with the other. When the gunman returned from the office, No heard gunshots and passed out, he said.

Seong Hoon No was fatally wounded.

The state had no physical evidence, such as a fingerprint or DNA, linking Caulfield to the scene. The weapon was not recovered. Several witnesses saw the attackers inside and outside the store, but none identified Caulfield.

The prosecution's key witness was Joseph Caulfield Sr., the defendant's father. Caulfield Sr. testified that he identified his son on the surveillance videotape based on the body movements and build of the taller gunman.

Caulfield is the seventh murder defendant to be acquitted by a Prince George's jury this year. Among those acquitted was a construction worker who acted as his own attorney.

During the first three months of the year, 11 defendants in Prince George's were convicted of or pleaded guilty to charges of murder or manslaughter, Korionoff said.

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