Trial begins in slaying of Pa. man

January 05, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - A gun found soaking in Antietam Creek a few days after the March 14, 2004, shooting death of Jonathan M. Dennis was the alleged smoking gun police needed to pursue felony murder charges against Tyshawn Jones in Dennis' death, but Jones' defense attorney argued Tuesday during the first day of his felony murder trial that Jones was misled when he confessed details of the shooting to police.

Jones, 23, whose last known address before his arrest was 113 S. Locust St. in Hagerstown, is charged with first-degree felony murder and related charges in the shooting death of Dennis, 19, of Waynesboro, Pa., at Washington Gardens Apartments in northeast Hagerstown.

In his opening statement, Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael told jurors that in a case of felony murder, which, in this case is a murder alleged to have been committed during the commission of a robbery, "Everyone from the getaway driver to the lookout, to the robber to, in this case, the person who fires the fatal shot," can be convicted of the crime.


The alleged robbery occurred after Andrew Snyder, then 13, was robbed at gunpoint of "$8 and a pack of cigarettes" by Tione Blake, a man Snyder had seen earlier that night at Sheetz along with Azaniah Blankumsee, also known as "Azzy," Michael said. Prior to the robbery, Blankumsee, along with Isreal Martinez and Victor Anderson, made an appearance at apartment 958C Security Road, where Snyder and his cousin, Dennis, were partying, Michael said.

When Snyder returned to the party to announce he had been robbed, a group of young men, including Dennis, went outside and encountered Blankumsee, Blake and Martinez, Michael said.

Dennis "unwisely said, 'Yeah, you've got a gun, I'm gonna wrap it around your head' or something like that," Michael said.

Then witnesses would say they heard, "bang, bang, bang and Jonathan (Dennis) says, 'I'm hit' and falls down," Michael said. Dennis later died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Blankumsee, who was seen at the party with a .380-caliber handgun, was identified as the triggerman and murder charges were filed against him: "Case closed," Michael said.

"But nothing is that simple," Michael said. During Dennis' autopsy, a .22-caliber bullet was recovered from his chest.

When police learned that a .22-caliber pistol was the murder weapon, Michael said, they decided to "keep the fact that the .380-caliber gun did not fire the fatal bullet and sit back."

On March 17, police went to Weis Markets on Eastern Boulevard for a reported assault with a gun. As police were arriving, a man ran from the shopping center, across Eastern Boulevard and toward Antietam Creek, Michael said.

After a brief search of the creek area, police found Jones "submerged in Antietam Creek," he said. The next day, police pulled a .22-caliber pistol from the water near where Jones was found, he said.

After some testing, it was determined that "the bullet fired at Mr. Dennis comes out of that .22," Michael said.

Police later interviewed Jones, who "breaks down and says, 'Yeah, I was there,'" Michael said.

Michael said Jones told police: "Azzy got Tione and Tione got me. They went off with the guns and I was back with some girls, smoking some dope ... Tione puts his .22 back in the car ... I get the .22 and fire twice. My gun jammed..."

Michael said, "He did not know that he was confessing."

Defense statement

Jones' attorney, Michael Wilson, told jurors in his opening statement that they will have to determine whether Jones' rights were infringed upon.

Wilson said that when Jones was taken to police headquarters for questioning, "he wasn't exactly sure what he was doing there. At that time, they were interested in Mr. Jones to help them with the case."

"There were promises made - promises that Mr. Jones depended on," Wilson told the jurors. "You're gonna get to determine whether that statement was voluntarily made by Mr. Jones."

Wilson told the jurors that they would hear about a lot of things during the scheduled two-day trial. "What you're not gonna hear about is Tyshawn Jones," he said.

Snyder, 14, and his older brother, Mark Snyder, 19, testified Tuesday that they did not see Jones at the party or at the scene of the shooting.

Joseph Kopera, supervisor of the Maryland State Police ballistics and firearms identification unit, testified that markings on the barrel of the .22-caliber Phoenix semi-automatic pistol recovered from Antietam Creek matched markings on the bullet taken from Dennis' chest and a live round recovered from the scene.

Western Maryland Regional Crime Lab Supervisory Forensic Scientist Jeffrey Kercheval testified that the .22-caliber pistol was not tested for fingerprints because the gun recovered from the water was "in a less than pristine condition" and would not have produced prints.

After more than two hours of jury selection, nine men and three women were seated as jurors from a pool of about 50. One male alternate juror was seated.

The trial was to resume this morning in Washington County Circuit Court.

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