Damon Bowie, the principal figure accused in last October's deadly robbery of Stoney's restaurant in Prince George's County, was convicted last night of firing the shots that killed the two men who died in the holdup.
The verdicts could mean a death sentence for Bowie when the Circuit Court jury reconvenes for the trial's penalty phase, scheduled for Oct. 22.
Bowie, 20, is one of five defendants accused of taking part in the holdup Oct. 11. Allan Stone, who owns the popular Clinton restaurant, was shot in the right elbow; a customer, off-duty police Detective Robert McDaniel, was left disfigured by a bullet wound to the face; and two Stoney's employees, chef Arnold Batson, 27, and manager Kevin Shelley, 28, were slain execution-style, each shot once in the back of the head.
The robbers fled with $300.
Friends and relatives of the dead men gasped, then cried, as the jury in the week-long trial returned its verdicts. Besides convicting him of two counts of first-degree murder, the panel found Bowie guilty of two counts of attempted murder in the shootings of Stone and McDaniel, and three counts each of armed robbery and using a handgun in a crime of violence.
Most important for the prosecution, however, was the jury's response to two other questions on its verdict sheet: Was it Damon Bowie who fired the shot that killed Batson? And did he fire the shot that killed Shelley?
It was the panel's "yes" verdict on each of those "special issues" that left Bowie exposed to a possible death sentence.
The jurors could have convicted him of first-degree murder by concluding that he took part in the robbery but that one of his accomplices fired the fatal shots. In that instance, Bowie would have faced a possible life sentence.
"He deserves to get it," said Tina Roy, of Clinton, a Stoney's employee and one of six people in the restaurant when the holdup occurred.
She spoke through tears, as did Brent McGee, of Temple Hills, who was a brother-in-law to Shelley and a longtime friend of Batson's. "It's too good to be true," McGee said of the verdicts, which came after about four hours of deliberation.
Bowie has the option of letting the jury decide whether to impose the death penalty, or leaving it up to Judge Vincent J. Femia. Barry Helfand, one of Bowie's attorneys, said his client will opt for the jury.
Helfand said he will point out numerous "mitigating circumstances" in an effort to show that Bowie "is worth saving." For example, he said, he plans to argue that Bowie went wrong because of "a very bizarre family background."
Bowie's mother, L.A. Bowie, attended the trial. After undergoing a sex change, she prefers to be called his father, Helfand said. L.A. Bowie sat in the gallery wearing a tie and suit coat, with whiskers and a balding head.
Helfand, in his closing statement yesterday, argued that the prosecution had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Damon Bowie pulled the trigger. None of the surviving victims could testify that they saw Bowie fire the shots.
Another man charged in the robbery, Shaun Harris, who allegedly waited outside the restaurant in a getaway vehicle, testified as a state's witness at Bowie's trial. He said Bowie admitted that he had shot Shelley, Batson and the others "because they saw his face." Helfand implied that another alleged accomplice, Derrell Thomas, had done the shooting and that Harris was covering up for him.
Thomas, who allegedly stood watch at the restaurant's doors, and Harris face separate trials, as does Bowie's sister, Christian Bowie, who allegedly drove the getaway vehicle. All are charged with first-degree murder and other crimes.
Another defendant, James W. Edmonds, 26, was convicted of second-degree murder.