A concealed police camera was rolling Aug. 10 when a D.C. undercover officer posing as a hired killer handed photographs depicting a man shot in the head to Jeffrey Leon Beard, a defendant in a robbery case who gave the officer $100 in an alleged scheme to keep the "dead" man off the witness stand.
The photographs turned out to be part of a police hoax, but the film was shown twice to D.C. Superior Court jurors who yesterday found Beard, a 23-year-old tour bus driver, not guilty of solicitation of felony murder, for which he had faced five years in prison.
With its verdict, the jury apparently agreed that Beard had not intended to have the man in the photographs, 18-year-old Darryl Smith, killed. Smith was a witness against Beard in the earlier robbery attempt whom police had disguised with fake blood to make it look as though he had been shot.
The jury's verdict was mixed, however. It convicted Beard of assault with intent to commit robbery while armed -- a life offense -- in the earlier robbery attempt and also found him guilty of making threats and obstructing justice for trying to silence Smith, his former accomplice.
"It seems clear that after viewing the videotape, the jury couldn't believe that Jeffrey Beard was totally without blame," said Richard Gilbert, his attorney. "I can only assume that the jury thought the plot to kill Darryl Smith did not originate with Beard."
In a week-long trial, Beard had argued that it was never his idea to kill Smith, that he had been trapped by police into going along with the scheme and was too scared to back out.
The police tapes used as evidence against him were flawed, Smith maintained, because several minutes of conversation were missing.
The unusual police operation, carried out by the department's elite Repeat Offenders Project, began following the attempted armed robbery of a neighborhood laundromat a year ago. Smith was arrested for the crime, pleaded guilty and told police that Beard had put him up to it and given him a gun.
Later, police received a tip that Beard wanted Smith killed to keep his testimony out of court. A third man, Joseph Wright, who corroborated Smith's story, agreed to introduce officer Alonzo Jacobs, posing as a hired killer, to Beard.
Their meeting Aug. 6 was taped, as was a meeting between Jacobs and Beard the next day in which Beard was recorded as saying he wanted Smith's "eyes closed, never to open again."
Jacobs agreed to do the job, saying he would prove the deed by giving Beard photographs of Smith's body, according to the taped conversation.
Police secreted Smith away in a motel, then took him to a relative's house in Prince George's County where they applied the phony blood to his clothes and photographed him lying apparently dead in some woods.
Within view of the police camera, Jacobs met Beard at his home on the unit block of T Street NW three days later and handed him the photographs of Smith. When other officers rushed in to arrest Beard, he tried to throw them away, complaining he didn't know why he was being arrested.
Beard is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 13.