A Laurel teenager who decided to "mess with" a Salvadoran immigrant tackled the victim so hard he was knocked off his feet and his head hit concrete with a loud thud, a Prince George's County prosecutor told jurors yesterday as the murder trial of Cochise Iraun "Cody" Queen, 18, began.
Then, while the victim, Gilberto Hernandez, 40, lay helpless on the ground--the back of his skull already cracked--a second attacker kicked him soccer-style in the head, hard enough to cause a second fracture above the right ear, the prosecutor said.
Assistant State's Attorney E. Wesley Adams's description of the fatal attack of Hernandez was the most complete one prosecutors have provided since it occurred 13 months ago.
Queen is one of three teenagers charged with murdering Hernandez. His co-defendants, Kellie Day Martin, 19, and Steven Darby, 17, will be tried separately next month.
Laurel police originally said Hernandez was stomped to death during a robbery attempt as he and two of his brothers walked to their Laurel apartment from their jobs at a nearby restaurant. But Prince George's State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson later disputed that account and said there was no clear robbery attempt or other motive for the attack.
Adams expanded on Johnson's "no motive" theory, telling jurors that while they may ask themselves throughout the trial why the attack occurred, "there's no explanation for it."
In his opening statement, defense attorney Steven A. Jacoby said two of Hernandez's brothers, who were with him in the moments before the attack, have given several different statements to investigators about what they saw and heard.
He also urged jurors to be skeptical of the testimony of four prosecution witnesses who first were charged with murder in the attack on Hernandez but later were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony.
"In this case, the search for the truth is clouded by confusion and darkness," Jacoby said. "What we have here is trial by lottery. Mr. Queen lost."
Hernandez was fatally attacked a little before midnight Sept. 4, 1998, as he and his brothers Juan and Tomas were on their way home from work. Adams told the jurors that Tomas Hernandez rode his bicycle a few blocks ahead of Juan and Gilberto, who walked home. Each of the brothers was chased by a group of teenagers, Adams said, but Juan, 22, and Tomas, 26, were able to escape uninjured. Gilberto suffered severe head injuries and died in a hospital four days later.
Adams said the incident began when someone in a group of young men in a parking lot yelled at Tomas Hernandez, "It's my bike!" and chased Tomas, who briefly grappled with his attackers and but then reached the apartment he shared with Gilberto, Juan and another brother.
Adams said that the young men still wanted to "mess with people walking by" and that five of them chased Gilberto and Juan Hernandez as they approached their apartment complex.
Juan Hernandez ran down the middle of Fourth Street, a busy thoroughfare, hoping someone would see him, while Gilbert Hernandez tried to flee to his apartment building, Adams said.
Gilberto Hernandez was within about 25 yards of his building when Queen, who had run toward the building and was hiding behind a tree or a bush, stepped out and hit Hernandez "like a 170-pound wrecking ball," Adams told the jurors.
Queen, a former star on Laurel High School's football team, knocked Hernandez "clean off his feet. His head slammed against the concrete" with a loud thud, Adams said.
The prosecutor told the jurors that one of the young men with Queen that night will testify that, as Hernandez lay on the ground, Martin kicked him soccer-style.
After the attack, Queen and some of the young men piled into a car and drove into the District, where Queen went to get high, Adams said. He said that when the group passed Hernandez sprawled on the ground, bleeding, Queen laughed.
Queen also is charged with first- and second-degree assault for allegedly attacking Juan Hernandez.