New trial sought in manslaughter case

February 14, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD


Boni Facio Aramburo's attorney argued for a new trial Monday in Washington County Circuit Court, saying that drug evidence should not have been presented by the prosecution during his client's December trial.

Aramburo, 21, of Ranson, W.Va., was found guilty by a Circuit Court jury Dec. 7 of voluntary manslaughter, first-degree assault and a series of other charges, including possession of crack cocaine, in Terrance "T.J." Johnson's April 5, 2005, shooting death.

Johnson was shot once in the heart after he jumped into a fistfight between Aramburo and Ernest Davis, aka "Poncho," shortly before 8 p.m. in Court 4 of a Hagerstown housing complex.


When Aramburo was arrested - more than 15 minutes after the shooting - he was found in possession of crack cocaine, according to trial testimony.

His attorney, Stephen H. Sacks, had argued in a pretrial motion that the drug charge be tried separately from his charges in Johnson's death, but that motion was denied by Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III.

On Monday, Sacks again argued that the charge should have been tried separately, this time asking for a new trial. Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley said he would wait to rule on that motion. He asked attorneys to research a specific case under Maryland case law that is similar to Aramburo's case. Beachley asked attorneys to consider whether the assault charges would have been considered viable evidence to be included in a drug charge case, under what is called a mutual admissibility test.

"It has to be admissible in one to be admissible in the other," Beachley said.

He said he would set Aramburo's next court date for sometime in mid-March.

Sacks said he would have tried the case differently if he did not have to worry about the drug charge. He said he told the jury to convict Aramburo of the drug charge because he had to focus on trying to gain acquittals on the more serious offenses.

"The state is reaching to just muddy the waters and make my client look like a bad guy ... because he had drugs on his person," Sacks said. He said Aramburo did not have a criminal record prior to his arrest.

Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael argued that the state included the drug charge because Aramburo used crack cocaine as his alibi, saying he ran from the scene of the shooting "because he was scared and he had crack cocaine on him." He said that the prosecution wanted to use that to discredit Aramburo.

"His first instinct when he encounters authority is to lie," Michael said.

He said Sacks never argued the drug charge during the trial and alleged that "this was an invited error."

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