Nearly seven years after a young prostitute was beaten to death in the Chillum area, Prince George's County police learned that DNA found at the murder scene matched a District man's, and they charged him with the homicide.
Yesterday, it took a Prince George's jury less than two hours to acquit him of the September 1998 slaying.
After a three-day trial, a Circuit Court jury deliberated for about an hour and 45 minutes before acquitting Bernard Way Jr., 29, of murdering Sharonda Sharp, 19.
Way did not testify, and his defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Robert McGowan, did not dispute the DNA evidence. Way's DNA was found inside and outside a condom that police discovered near Sharp's body, as well as under the victim's fingernails. McGowan told jurors that Way had engaged in consensual sex with Sharp, a known prostitute, but did not harm her.
Way's genetic material is in a statewide DNA database because he has been convicted of robbery in Maryland.
Homicide Detective John Piazza Jr. testified that police had interviewed a witness who described seeing a man who did not match Way's description near where Sharp's body was found about the time the murder occurred, McGowan said.
"We're disappointed, but we have to respect the jury's decision," State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said of Way's acquittal.
Prince George's police and prosecutors have had mixed success recently in obtaining convictions against defendants who were charged in old cases based on DNA matches.
In July, a Circuit Court judge sentenced a man to 32 years in prison for attempting to murder a young woman in Temple Hills in October 1985. That investigation had been dormant for years before the original detective on the case, Linda Dixon, now a major, reopened it. The county police lab matched DNA evidence from the attack to Theodore R. Reed, who pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and first-degree rape.
In June, a Circuit Court jury acquitted a District man of second-degree rape and related charges in a 1992 attack. Lincoln Brown, 38, was charged after police matched DNA from the crime scene to Brown's DNA, which was in a national database.
During that trial, the victim testified that she was attacked when she went out at 3 a.m. to buy Tylenol. But a county police detective testified that the victim had told police she had gone out to try to buy crack cocaine, said Sharon Weidenfeld, a private investigator who worked on Brown's defense.