A prosecutor, opening the murder case against Paul Leon Jordan in D.C. Superior Court yesterday, told the jury how the tranquil routine of soap operas, cartoons and children's toys for a 3-year-old girl and her baby sitter was shattered last Jan. 24 in a few swift moments of struggle that left them both dead in the sitter's Northwest Washington house.
"Danger did enter the house," prosecutor Amy S. Berman said of the day 56-year-old Cora Barnes and the daughter of two D.C. police officers, young Crystin Fletcher, were killed. "But it didn't come in the form of a stranger. It came in the form of a neighbor. It came in the form of Paul Leon Jordan."
Jordan has pleaded not guilty to the charges of first-degree murder, and yesterday defense attorney Penny Marshall offerred a different version of the case. She told jurors that although police have confessions from Jordan, "he falsely confessed to something he did not do."
Jordan, a 48-year-old alcoholic, was under psychological pressure from police during a lengthy interrogation and was suffering from alcohol withdrawal when he confessed to the crimes, she said.
"He became a convenient scapegoat in a case highly publicized and of special concern to the police department . . . ," Marshall told the jury. "No one in this courtroom believes the deaths were not tragic. However, the wrong man has been arrested."
The conflicting statements, along with tearful testimony from both the child's mother and the daughter of the baby sitter, opened what is expected to be a two-week trial before Judge Eugene Hamilton.
At the heart of the case are the statements, one on videotape, that Jordan made to police about the deaths of Barnes and Crystin Fletcher.
Berman told jurors yesterday that Jordan, a one-time neighbor of Barnes on Second Street NW, first denied to detectives that he knew her, but later told them -- "with tears in his eyes" -- that he often visited Barnes and on Jan. 24 he "made love" to her on the same bed where the baby was sleeping.
According to Berman, Jordan told police that when the child, whom he called "little sweetheart," began to cry, Barnes went to comfort her and began to argue with Jordan.
"He went to the child and grabbed it around the neck and began to choke it," Berman told the jurors. "She Barnes began to beat on him with her fists, and he knocked her aside."
Then, after getting a knife downstairs, he chased Barnes and stabbed her "he didn't know how many times," Berman quoted Jordan as telling police.
On the videotape, Berman told the jury, Jordan also stated, "The baby saw what was what, and I had to take care of it, too."
However, Marshall told jurors Jordan, a man with "an alcohol problem" that "arose out of personal tragedies in his own life," was suffering from withdrawal, which "causes the brain to malfunction," when he confessed. Jordan, she said, "was confusing fiction with fact" by that point and confessing to things that "could not possibly have happened."
Each side outlined what the jurors would see as the case unfolded, and each offered its own interpretation of those facts.
Evidence would show that three red nylon fibers found on Jordan's clothes Feb. 14, the day he was arrested, were "identical in every way" to carpet from Barnes' house at 4321 Second Street NW, Berman stated. But Marshall told the jury, "Those fibers could have come from any red carpet similarly manufactured . . . . "
The government's first witness yesterday was Crystal Fletcher, Crystin's mother, who told of taking her child to a doctor's appointment and to a Roy Rogers restaurant for lunch before dropping her off at Barnes' house the day of slayings.
Handing Crystal Fletcher a small photograph, Berman asked her, "Can you tell us what [this is]?"
"It's my daughter," Fletcher softly replied.