A Baltimore man was convicted early yesterday of murdering a partygoer May 20 at a large, outdoor birthday celebration in in western Howard County.

Jeffrey L. Fowlkes, 23, was found guilty of second-degree murder, assault and battery and handgun violations by a Howard County Circuit Court jury, which deliberated 11 1/2 hours before returning a verdict just after midnight. He was acquitted of first-degree murder and manslaughter.

Fowlkes, an Army specialist fourth class who had been stationed in Fort Lee, Va., remained expressionless after the verdict was read. His mother wept quietly and was comforted by Fowlkes's grandmother, Lucille Foreman.

Fowlkes, who is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 29, was convicted of killing Joseph Tyrone Taylor, 21, of Cooksville, who died after being shot in the back at the late-night birthday party in Glenelg. Fowlkes also was found guilty of wounding two other partygoers, William Shird Jr. and Ronald Miles Jr.

Throughout the 11-day trial, witnesses presented the jury with two vastly contradicting views of what occurred at the party, attended by about 200 people in the 13100 block of Triadelphia Road. The event was held by Bertha Burgess, who was celebrating the birthdays of two of her sons. Fowlkes, who was home for the weekend, went to the party with cousins and friends.

Witnesses for the prosecution testified that they saw Fowlkes fire his 9mm semi-automatic handgun into a crowd as others shouted, "spray these country {expletive}" and "crank that {expletive} over here." Some said they saw the defendant square off before shooting and that he smiled as he fired.

Defense witnesses said that Fowlkes retrieved the weapon from his car after unsuccessfully trying to break up a fight. They testified that they heard what they thought were a variety of guns being fired after Fowlkes discharged his weapon.

Fowlkes testified that he shot into the air to break up the fight but that he was drunk and fired "kind of low." He also said that he thought someone had grabbed or struck him as he fired.

During closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Kate O'Donnell urged the jury to disregard the "incredible and incredulous" testimony of defense witnesses, many of whom went to the party with Fowlkes. She painted the defendant and his friends as interlopers at the gathering who were seeking opportunities to stir up violence.

"When was the last time you had a cookout and invited guests and one of them brought a gun?" O'Donnell asked.

She also asked the jury to ignore Fowlkes's defense that he was trying to be a peacemaker. Noting that he was arrested a few miles from the party shortly after the shooting, the prosecutor said, "A reasonable man, playing the role of peacekeeper, would have stayed around to attend {to} the wounded."

Defense attorney Richard Winelander contended that the shooting was a "stupid, stupid accident," caused by Fowlkes's drunkenness.

He said that experts had shown that the bullet that killed Taylor could have come from seven varieties of handguns, not just from a 9mm semi-automatic.

"The government has failed to prove that the projectile that killed Joe Taylor came from my client's gun," Winelander said. "You just don't guess in a case like this."