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Man convicted again in Hagerstown slaying

December 19, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

A man whose 2005 first-degree murder conviction was overturned on appeal this year was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder.

A Washington County Circuit Court jury found Tyshawn Jones, 26, guilty of 15 counts, including two murder charges, in the 2004 shooting death of Jonathan M. Dennis at the Washington Gardens apartment complex in Hagerstown.

"I'm just hoping Jonathan's soul can rest," his sister, Heather Dennis, said after the verdict.

Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. said Jones will be sentenced in January.

Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Authorities have said the shooting was part of a violent confrontation after Dennis' cousin, Andrew Snyder, was robbed at gunpoint of $8 and a pack of cigarettes.

This was the second time Jones was convicted of killing Dennis, 19, of Waynesboro, Pa.

In January 2005, Jones, whose last known address was in Hagerstown, was convicted of first-degree felony murder and second-degree depraved heart murder. He was sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison.

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However, in April, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed the conviction of first-degree felony murder, which is murder committed during the commission of another felony.

The court ruled that the robbery of Snyder was a separate crime and could not be the basis for first-degree felony murder. It also said the correct procedure for recording a verdict had not been followed.

The appellate court ordered that Jones be tried again on all charges except first-degree felony murder.

In Washington County Circuit Court on Monday and Tuesday, prosecutors Joseph Michael and Viki Pauler presented similar elements from the first trial during the new one.

Relying on a taped statement that Jones gave to police, prosecutors said he went to the apartment complex when an acquaintance asked for help in committing a robbery.

Snyder, who now is 17, recalled after Tuesday's verdict that he had a gun stuck in his ribs when he was robbed. He went inside an apartment to tell people he knew; they came out as a group to see what happened.

Jones said on the tape that he got scared as the group came at him and other people near him. "Just to make the people coming towards us stop coming towards us," he fired one or two shots over their head, he said on the tape.

Jones' attorney, Alan L. Winik, assigned by the public defender's office, suggested that one of those bullets might have come down and struck Dennis.

Jones didn't mean to hurt anyone and shouldn't be convicted of anything more serious than involuntary manslaughter, Winik said during his closing argument.

Michael rejected the "bullet from the sky" theory.

"It's a hundred feet, not a thousand yards," he said.

The jury deliberated for about an hour and 40 minutes before returning guilty verdicts on all 15 charges.

Two of the most serious counts were second-degree depraved heart murder, based on extreme disregard for another person's life, and second-degree felony murder, for a death that occurs during a first-degree assault.

A co-defendant, Azaniah Blankumsee, who previously was convicted of firing at the group coming toward him and Jones, was sentenced in February to 45 years in prison.

In 2004, Tione Kenneth Blake was sentenced to 25 years for convictions tied to the armed robbery.

Other charges on which Jones was convicted Tuesday included reckless endangerment, use of a handgun in the commission of a felony and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

Jones sat motionless as the jury forewoman replied "guilty" after each charge that was read. Winik patted him on the arm.

Some of Dennis' relatives cried.

"My heart was pounding at first," said Heather Dennis, 18.

The most difficult part of the second trial was seeing the autopsy photos again, she said.

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