A Prince George's County Circuit Court jury yesterday found University of Maryland defensive back Keeta Covington not guilty of a misdemeanor assault and battery charge brought by a female student at the university.
The jury deliberated 15 minutes after hearing conflicting testimony from complainant Yvockeea Kim Gray, Covington and three witnesses to the incident, including a friend of Gray and two Maryland football players who live with Covington.
After leaving Judge William H. McCullough's courtroom, jury foreman Raymond Davis of Landover, a retired postal worker, said the prosecution failed to prove Covington intended to harm Gray, one of four points that constitute the legal definition of battery.
"He showed no resentment," Davis said. "She seemed to have hurt feelings more than bodily injury."
Covington declined comment and Gray left the courthouse before the verdict. "I don't have any outstanding comment," Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said from his home last night. "I'm just glad he can put this behind him and go back to being a normal student. I know he is very, very relieved."
Gray claimed in court documents that Covington struck her in the face and pushed her to the floor in his dormitory suite Aug. 20. Covington admitted there was contact, but his lawyers argued that it did not constitute a crime, that Gray hit him first, and that Covington pushed her only after she refused to leave the residence in Prince George's Hall on the Maryland campus.
"Is what happened that night a crime or not?" defense attorney Robert Kim asked in his summation. ". . . Things like this happen all the time. It's not a crime. It's just something that happened in a dorm. . . . Maryland football is not on trial here; Mr. Covington is."
Covington, who recently settled out of court on a civil suit arising from another assault and battery charge, tried two weeks ago to plead guilty and spend one night in jail. By that plea bargain, the record of the case would have been expunged after three years.
But Judge Vincent Femia, who negotiated the plea bargain with defense attorney Jeffrey Weber, rejected it when prosecutor James Jones sought a stronger sentence.
According to yesterday's testimony: Gray said she and Maryland student Lisa Rogers visited Shawn McNeil, one of Covington's five suite-mates, on the night of Aug. 20. The three of them were talking in the living room of the suite when Covington entered and joined the conversation.
There is no conflict about that. But there is about what happened in the next two or three minutes.
According to Gray, Covington grabbed her hand in the course of "friendly conversation," and she jerked it away, perhaps striking Covington as she did so. She testified: "He said, 'You think you're bad, don't you? I'll smack you in your face.' I said, 'No you won't.' "
Gray said Covington slapped her jaw, then pushed her with two hands on the upper body. She fell backward over a piece of furniture. She said Ben Jefferson, a lineman and another of Covington's roommates, who was in his bedroom when the altercation started, prevented it from escalating.
Covington testified that he gave Gray a gentle touch on the upper arm during the course of the conversation and that she responded by punching his ribs. "I touched her arm, and she gave me a straight jab," he said. "I thought she was kidding. I didn't realize she was serious until she said, 'You don't know me that well to be touching me or grabbing me.' That's when I realized it wasn't playful.
"I said, 'I was only kidding, but if that's the way you feel about it, then leave . . . .' I grabbed her by the arms, and she said she wasn't leaving. I pushed her about halfway across the room, and that's when she pulled away from me and fell. She disrespected me; I said she's unwelcome in my place and she has to leave." Testimony by the other witnesses also differed. McNeil said the woman struck Covington's face with the back of her hand, and Jefferson said she punched his stomach. Rogers disagreed on how the women got into the dormitory, and was off by two hours on what time the incident occurred.
"It was also a matter of them being uninvited," said juror Andrew Lee, an accountant from Upper Marlboro. "It seemed to be a matter of pride. There was also no doctor's report on any injuries."
"I was disappointed," Jones, the prosecutor, said of yesterday's decision. "The one that hung us up was intent."