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Defense calls witnesses on second day of murder trial

December 03, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Defense attorneys for Azaniah Blankumsee on Thursday presented a Washington County Circuit Court jury with evidence of gunshot residue on the hands of another partygoer in an attempt to sway jurors from finding their client guilty of first-degree felony murder in connection with the March 14 shooting death of Jonathan Dennis at Washington Gardens Apartments.

Blankumsee, 26, whose last known address before his arrest was 658 N. Prospect St. in Hagerstown, was indicted in June on charges of first-degree felony murder, first-degree assault, attempted second-degree murder, armed robbery and robbery, among more than 40 counts in connection with the death of Dennis, 19, of Waynesboro, Pa.

Felony murder is a murder committed during the commission of a felony such as robbery, burglary or kidnapping.

Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael presented witnesses Wednesday and Thursday who said Andrew Snyder, who was 13 at the time of the incident, was robbed of $8 and a pack of cigarettes before the fatal shot was fired at about 12:45 a.m.

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On Oct. 18, the prosecution issued a notice to the court that it intends to seek a sentence for Blankumsee of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, according to court documents.

Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison, co-counsel for Blankumsee, called a former FBI agent and gunshot residue expert, John Kilty, as the first witness for the defense's case Thursday. Kilty, who retired in 1987 from the bureau but continues to consult on gunshot residue, testified that he reviewed a report that showed Isreal Martinez, a.k.a. Fleet, had gunshot residue on his left hand. He told Hutchison it was possible that Martinez fired a gun.

Martinez was identified by prosecution witnesses Wednesday and Thursday as a man who was with Blankumsee at a party at apartment 958C the night of the homicide.

On cross-examination, Kilty told Michael that it also is possible Martinez was in close proximity to a fired gun, had touched a fired gun or had been in contact with someone who had fired a gun.

Kilty said he did not review gunshot residue reports regarding anyone else.

Christine Tate, 18, was at the party that night and was called to take the witness stand for the defense to talk about an encounter with Martinez.

Once she was sworn in, Tate looked toward Dennis' family and burst into tears. She held her face in her hands, raised her head and tearfully said, "I can't do this." She was escorted off the stand by a court bailiff.

After a brief recess, Tate returned, still teary, and took the witness stand. She testified that she went into the kitchen of the apartment with her boyfriend the night of March 13 and met a man who had teardrop tattoos under his eye. Other witnesses earlier identified Martinez as having teardrop tattoos under his eye.

Tate said Martinez appeared "upset and mad." She was asked what Martinez told the couple, but after an objection from Michael was not allowed to testify about the discussion.

Before the prosecution rested its case at 1 p.m. Thursday, Snyder testified that he was robbed after Martinez "said he wanted to talk to me." Snyder testified that he followed Martinez outside and saw Tione Blake and Blankumsee.

Snyder said Blake held a gun to his side and asked him if he "was holding." Blankumsee was standing right beside him, he testified. Snyder testified that he had seen Blankumsee at the party earlier, but didn't see Blake until he saw those two men together a little earlier that night at Sheetz.

Snyder testified that after the robbery, he ran up to the apartment crying and told his friends he had been robbed.

Andrew Biesecker testified that "everyone jumped up" - including Dennis - and went outside following Snyder's announcement.

A short time later, "Azzy," which is Blankumsee's nickname, fired shots in the direction of a group of Snyder's friends, Snyder testified. He put his hands over his head and ducked, describing how he ran from the gunfire.

Biesecker testified that he saw "Azzy" in the shadows when the shots were fired. On cross-examination, Biesecker was asked if he saw a photograph in the newspaper of Blankumsee before identifying him as the shooter in a photo array after the incident. He said, "I probably glanced at it." On redirect examination, Biesecker said the picture did not cause him to pick Blankumsee out of the array.

On cross-examination, Biesecker was asked about his friends' nicknames. Hutchison asked if he was familiar with a "717 gang" out of Waynesboro.

"It's not a gang. It's just a bunch of guys," he said. Biesecker said he was part of that "crew," but Dennis was not.

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