A D.C. Superior Court jury found two D.C. men guilty yesterday of charges they tried to rob and then fatally shot a 23-year-old man early Halloween morning in 1983.
The two-week trial, in which one of the defendants and several male spectators wore women's clothing, gave courtroom observers a glimpse of the city's transvestite population and was described by a prosecutor as the most colorful case he had ever tried.
James Birth, 22, of 1639 Kramer St. NE, was convicted of felony murder, attempted robbery while armed and carrying a pistol without a license and Glenn Graves, 28, was convicted of second-degree murder while armed and attempted robbery while armed.
The prosecution said that the two killed Romualdo Barrios Garcia on 15th Street NW after Garcia and a friend approached Graves, a transvestite who worked as a prostitute.
According to court testimony, Graves, who is also known as Nicole, signaled to a group of three men, including Birth, that Garcia had money and would be a good robbery target. Garcia and his friend were surrounded by the group and Birth then shot Garcia, according to testimony. The two other men, Michael Green and James Makel, both of D.C., earlier pleaded guilty to lesser charges and Makel testified for the prosecution.
The fact that one of the defendants and some of the witnesses are transvestites gave rise to a number of side issues. For example, Judge Eugene N. Hamilton announced the week before the trial was set to begin that he would not allow men to wear dresses and high heels in his courtroom, according to the lawyers in the case. Hamilton later rescinded that order after defense and government lawyers said their witnesses and client would feel uncomfortable dressed otherwise.
When questions about make-up arose, lawyer Thomas Abbenante said his client Graves would put his make-up on in the courtroom if not permitted to do so in the holding cell outside the courtroom.
"This is not a comedy hour" Judge Hamilton admonished one afternoon after courtroom spectators giggled when Abbenante said one transvestite considered himself the wife of Green and the "drag mother" of another witness.
"It's the most colorful case that I have ever tried," said the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan D. Strasser.
Yesterday, Graves gasped and bowed his head when the jury foreman announced the guilty verdict. Graves, previously convicted of manslaughter, is set to be sentenced Sept. 4. and could be sentenced to life but must spend at least five years in prison. Birth is set to be sentenced Aug. 28 and could also be sentenced to life. Because he was convicted of a felony murder, Birth will not be eligible for parole for 20 years.
During the trial, lawyers for Birth and Graves, who did not testify, insisted their clients had not participated in the murder nor had they been at the scene of the crime. Garcia's companion Javier Chavez did not identify either Birth or Graves and shortly after the murder, Chavez said the prostitute who had set them up was as "white as a trench coat." Graves is black.
Makel testified at the trial that Birth and Graves were at the scene.