An Anne Arundel County teenager was found guilty of murder and attempted murder yesterday in what a judge called "random, sniper-like shootings" in a Severn neighborhood one night last August.
The judge found that Anthony Switzer, encouraged and supported by three friends, shot and killed 18-year-old Doray Jones, a passing motorist who was chosen at random. Switzer then approached two homes in search of potential victims before firing a shotgun blast outside another house that narrowly missed a woman, her son's fiancee and the fiancee's 9-year-old twin girls, the judge determined.
In delivering his verdict, Circuit Court Judge Michael E. Loney said Switzer told his friends that his intention that night was "in his words, to catch a body."
Switzer did not visibly react as Loney pronounced him guilty of murder and two counts of attempted murder, crimes for which he could be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Loney found Switzer, 17, not guilty of two counts of attempted murder in connection with shooting at the twins, whom the judge said Switzer may not have seen.
Outside court, Doray Jones's father, Gerald Jones, said that he was gratified by the judge's decision and that he hopes Switzer receives the maximum term for the killing. He blamed the shootings in part on exposure to glorified images of violence. "Things they see on TV, they try to act it out on the streets," he said. "I think that played a big role. People do what they see."
Assistant State's Attorney Michael Dunty told reporters that the crimes terrorized a neighborhood. "It could have been anyone driving their car. It could have been anyone jogging down the street or sitting on the steps," he said.
One of Switzer's attorneys, David Schertler, said Switzer "understands the judge's verdict" but was disappointed and will consider his legal options.
At trial, Switzer's attorneys did not deny that he was holding the shotgun, a stolen 12-gauge, when both shots were fired. Rather, Schertler argued that Switzer was acting under the sway of his older friends and that he was "the most innocent" in the group. Schertler described Switzer's actions as "stupid" and reckless but said he never intended to kill anyone.
Schertler assailed the credibility of the two witnesses who said Switzer had set out to "catch a body." Both testified under grants of immunity, and the two men plus a third who was with Switzer that night have not been charged in connection with the shootings.
The four teenagers, along with others, burglarized a home in Severn on Aug. 19, Loney found. They stole the shotgun, a rifle, DVDs and other items.
The next day, on bus rides to and from a sports store where they bought ammunition for the shotgun, Switzer declared his intention to kill someone, the judge determined.
That night, the teenagers decided to shoot at the first car that drove by -- Jones's car, as it turned out. They hid the gun after Switzer fired, waiting in the woods before eventually concluding that the blast probably had not struck the driver.
During the trial, Anthony Wright, 18, and Marshall Hall, 19, testified that Switzer again announced in the woods that he would not go home until he had killed someone -- a goal that led him to one house, then another and finally to the neighborhood where he fired at the two women loading the twins into a car.
Police identified the suspects by connecting the shootings to the burglary a day earlier. Some of the stolen DVDs had been recovered, and a fingerprint on one led to Hall. Under questioning a short time later, Hall implicated Wright, Switzer and the remaining man, Terry Cooks Jr., 19.
Switzer then said in a statement to police that he was the gunman in both instances. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 15.