Two courtroom scenes, one comic, one solemnly riveting, underscored the effectiveness of the duo of Prince George's County prosecutors who won a jury verdict of guilty this month against Dunkin' Donuts double-murderer Trone Tyrone Ashford.
By using a humorous description about a fishing trip, one of the prosecutors reeled in a witness who provided damaging statements about Ashford, who was convicted June 17 of shotgunning two of the eatery's employees to death and seriously wounding a third during a robbery.
And in a serious and dramatic appeal to the jurors' emotions about the callousness of the crime, the other prosecutor made a dramatic and effective closing argument that brought home the horror of the execution-style deaths for the family and friends of the victims.
Ashford, 27, who was facing the death penalty, was sentenced Friday to two life sentences without parole for the murders of Mukesh Patel, 35, and Kanu Patel, 28, (no relation), plus 50 years for related crimes, all of which occurred Oct. 15.
Although they had sought the death penalty, the convictions were a victory for Assistant State's Attorneys John Maloney and Tara Harrison, who impressed courtroom observers and at least one juror with their individual and collective performances.
Maloney and Harrison, who worked many nights and weekends preparing the case, divided the prosecution: Maloney, the senior attorney, handled the guilt or innocence portion, and Harrison took over the penalty phase. It was the first capital murder case for both of them.
"They're a dynamic duo. They worked well together," said Fernando Witcher, 34, the lone juror who spoke to reporters after the verdict.
"I don't know what more they could have done," said Patricia Youmans, who sat in on most of the trial. Ashford, of Temple Hills, and two other men are awaiting trial for killing Youmans's son, Brently Jayson Youmans, 31, in September.
The strengths of Maloney, 35, a nine-year veteran of the state's attorney's office and the son of County Council member Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville), and Harrison, 29, a three-year member of the office, were highlighted as the trial unfolded.
Maloney's experience was evident during what began as a routine cross-examination of a friend of Ashford's, who was testifying as a character witness for Ashford. Roscoe Williams testified that he and Ashford often went out fishing.
Maloney immediately saw an opening. Mimicking casting a fishing line, Maloney asked Williams if Ashford, who claimed that a back ailment would have made it difficult for him to commit the murders, had any trouble casting.
No, Williams said. In fact, Ashford once cast his line clear over a big tree, Williams said, as many courtroom spectators and even some jurors broke out laughing.
Maloney's eyes lit up. Grinning ear to ear, Maloney popped out of his seat and, in a jocular tone of voice, said, "Tell me more about that."
Williams described a comical scene in which the hulking Ashford, who has a severely arthritic and curved back, cast his line from a bridge over a tree on the other side of the water. "We were tellin' him, 'Ain't no fish up there,' " Williams said.
Besides providing levity, the testimony made a key prosecution point. Ashford's hired medical expert had just testified that Ashford's condition made it difficult for him to move around. But the testimony of Williams, a friend who would have no reason to want to harm Ashford, made the point that Ashford wasn't physically helpless.
Testimony and opening and closing arguments lasted from June 9 through 22. As often occurs during long trials, the attention of spectators and jurors waxed and waned.
There was no waning of attention when, during the penalty phase of the trial, Harrison stood in front of the jury and argued that Ashford deserved the death penalty.
In a riveting performance that held everyone in the courtroom in silent, rapt attention, Harrison launched a forceful rhetorical blitz imploring jurors to grant justice to the victims and their relatives and sentence Ashford to death.
"He doesn't even know [the victims'] names. Does he feel sorry, truly sorry? Is there any remorse? No," Harrison said. "He's sorry that he got caught. He doesn't care what happened to Kanu and Mukesh Patel. You can tell by his demeanor. It's all about Trone."
"Mr. Ashford deserves the ultimate penalty for ending the lives of these two young men," Harrison concluded.
"She reminded me of a female Johnnie Cochran," juror Witcher said.
Because Ashford has a wife and two young children, the jury voted to sentence him to two terms of life without parole, Witcher said, a sentence Circuit Court Judge E. Allen Shepherd imposed, with the life terms to be served consecutively.
Though he made no comments to Ashford, Shepherd ordered him to pay court costs.
CAPTION: Tara Harrison and John Maloney worked nights and weekends to secure a conviction in the Dunkin' Donuts murders. "They worked well together," one juror said after the trial.