A headline in yesterday's Metro section incorrectly stated what a witness said at a trial of a Bethesda jeweler charged with killing two men after his store was robbed. The witness did not identify the man who said "Stop, stop" while the defendent was firing at the men. (Published 12/14/90)
A high school student testified yesterday that he heard a male voice shout "Stop, Stop" as a Bethesda jeweler fired at two men, one of whom had stolen more than $20,000 in merchandise minutes earlier.
Bryce Borlick, a sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, was one of several witnesses called yesterday at the trial of Vahag Babayan, who is charged with fatally shooting two District men June 16 as they sat in a car in downtown Bethesda.
Ann Dixon, an assistant state medical examiner, testified that both men were shot several times and that each was shot at least once in the back.
The Saturday afternoon shooting, which was seen by many bystanders and shoppers, sparked a public debate on how far private citizens can legally go to protect themselves and their property.
Yesterday, on the first day of court testimony, Borlick testified that he was skateboarding with a friend in a parking garage when he saw Babayan, 27, run up to the driver's side of a blue Honda and begin firing a pistol.
"He held the gun with both hands," Borlick said. "He shot into the car five times." After the second shot, Borlick said, he heard someone cry out, "Stop, Stop" before the shooting continued.
Afterward, Borlick said, the man in the driver's seat pointed a gun at Babayan, who was running back to his store. The wounded man did not fire, Borlick said. Instead, he dropped his gun and drove away.
Babayan is being tried in Montgomery County Circuit Court on murder and reckless endangerment charges. He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
An immigrant from Armenia, Babayan is accused of second-degree murder in the death of Steven J. Powell, 37, an amputee who was a counselor in a D.C. substance-abuse program.
Babayan also is charged with manslaughter in the death of Donald Shelton, 33, who police said had robbed Babayan's store at gunpoint shortly before the shooting. Babayan is charged with reckless endangerment for allegedly firing a weapon in a manner that jeopardized public safety.
Police said the shooting occurred about 1 p.m., shortly after the holdup at Prestige Jewelers, which is in a shopping arcade at 7720 Woodmont Ave. Shelton crashed the getaway car into five other vehicles before coming to a halt five blocks away, police said.
Medical Examiner Dixon testified that Shelton, who was on a weekend furlough from a D.C. halfway house, was shot five times, twice in the back. Powell, who lost a leg to cancer as a child, was shot twice, once each in the left arm and the upper back, Dixon testified.
Dixon added that blood tests revealed traces of heroin in Shelton's body; urine tests detected traces of cocaine and heroin in Powell's.
In opening statements yesterday, prosecutor Robert Dean said the trial centered on the legality of Babayan's actions. "What is the value of human life? When is it lawful to eliminate another person's very existence?"
But defense attorney Edward Genn said Babayan was "violated" by the robbery and shot Shelton and Powell in self-defense.
"As regrettable as the results were, the true victim was Mr. Babayan from beginning to end," Genn said.
Genn said Babayan purchased a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol in January after another store in the arcade had been robbed.
Genn said Babayan did not intend to kill the suspects but was enraged after being robbed. "They took his identity. They violated his person," Genn said. Babayan "made a choice not to let it be done to him without doing something."
Bystander Karen Wood testified yesterday she had just finished changing her 2-week-old daughter's diaper in her jeep when she saw Babayan open fire on Shelton and Powell, whose car was parked in front of hers. "I couldn't believe my eyes, to be honest," Wood said. "I was shocked."