Man's felony murder conviction reversed

April 19, 2007|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has reversed the conviction of a Hagerstown man found guilty of first-degree felony murder in Washington County Circuit Court in January 2005 and granted him a new trial.

Tyshawn Jones, 25, was convicted of murder in the March 14, 2004, shooting death of Jonathan M. Dennis of Waynesboro, Pa., who was struck by a single bullet after an armed robbery outside an apartment at Washington Gardens Apartments in Hagerstown.

Jones was sentenced by Circuit Judge John H. McDowell to serve life plus 30 years in state prison.

Jones did not carry out the robbery, but he was aware that it was planned, according to a taped statement he made to police that was played during his trial.

After the robbery, a crowd approached the group of people Jones was with and he retrieved a .22-caliber pistol from a car because he was scared, he said on the tape.


"So I get the gun. I shot twice, you know what I mean, like in the air," Jones said on the tape.

A .22-caliber pistol was the murder weapon, a Hagerstown Police Department detective testified during the trial.

Because the robbery was an act separate from the shooting, that robbery does not support a conviction for first-degree felony murder, according to the court's decision. Felony murder is a murder committed during the commission of a felony, such as robbery, burglary or kidnapping.

A part of the trial known as hearkening also was at issue in Jones' appeal. Hearkening is the process where a jury is commanded to listen to the clerk while the clerk reads back the jury's verdict, Assistant State's Attorney Robert Veil explained.

"It's the formal process of confirming the verdict," he said.

According to the court's opinion, which cites previous cases, a verdict that has not been followed by either polling or hearkening has not been properly rendered and recorded, therefore it is nullified. A new trial must be ordered if the jury is neither polled nor hearkened, according to the opinion.

The Washington County Circuit jury that convicted Tyshawn Jones was called into the courthouse in February 2005 to be polled on the unanimity of its verdict. The jury affirmed that its verdicts remained the same. According to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion, the jury must be polled before it is discharged, so recalling the jury was not adequate.

The Court of Special Appeals reversed the judgments of Washington County Circuit Court, and Jones' case was sent back to Washington County for a new trial on all counts except the first-degree felony murder count.

Jones was being held at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., a prison official said Wednesday.

Another man, Azaniah Blankumsee, was convicted of felony murder, armed robbery and other crimes in Dennis' death.

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