Jurors in the murder case against Rickey Pharr are expected to begin deliberating tomorrow on a case that Pharr’s defense attorney on Monday called “a huge embarrassment to the government.”
According to the government’s evidence presented at trial and summarized in closing statements Monday afternoon, on Oct. 2, 2010, Pharr encountered Angelo Jones at a craps game near Dix Street in Northeast DC. Pharr believed that Jones was an informant to police, an allegation that, attorneys on both sides said, could lead to death in some neighborhoods.
Prosecutor Regan Taylor told jurors that once Pharr had seen Jones, he asked Curtis Patterson, a former co-defendant in the case, for a gun. Patterson gave it to him, Taylor said.
One of the people gathered for the craps game and partying on Dix Street that night called 911 to ask for help. But for about five minutes the dispatcher struggled to determine where the young man was calling from. Then, while the young man attempted to find another address to give the dispatcher, gunshots were heard in the background. The witness described the shooter to the dispatcher: a black male with a long beard.
On Monday Taylor reminded the jury of that call.
“You heard the six shots that killed Angelo Jones,” she said. “As you heard those shots you heard [the witness] telling you who the shooter was.”
Taylor contends that Pharr matched that physical description the night of the shooting.
After the shooting, Taylor said, Pharr left the parking lot, cutting through Marvin Gaye Park on his way back to Lincoln Heights, dropping the gun in the trash on his way.
A witness testified that about five minutes after hearing gunshots, she saw a pickup truck pull into the Lincoln Heights neighborhood and Pharr got out of the passenger side. He told the woman he had “slumped,” or killed, someone, she told the court Thursday, then he took off his hat and shirt and gave them to her.
Of the killing, the woman said Pharr told her a “boy” pulled out a knife, then Patterson passed Pharr a gun and Pharr shot the “boy.” She said Pharr said he threw the gun in a trash can in Marvin Gaye Park. Pharr, Patterson, the woman and her friend then walked to the park to get the gun, she said. They retrieved it and Pharr asked the woman to hold on to it for him, she said. She returned it to him the next night.
“I didn’t know what to do with it,” she said, adding that she also threw away Pharr’s t-shirt. The gun has not been found by MPD.
That lack of a gun, or any other physical evidence, is one of many flaws in the governments’ case, Jason Downs, Pharr’s defense attorney, said Monday in closing arguments.
Downs told the jury that Pharr is innocent. Someone else shot Jones, he said, and the government “paid and pressured” witnesses to point the finger at Pharr.
“You get what you pay for,” he said, telling jurors of how the government paid for a hotel for four months for one witness, then gave her money for a down payment on a new apartment.
“She didn’t come in here to tell the truth,” Downs said of that witness. “She came into this courtroom to repay the government.”
Downs said other witnesses were pressured by MPD detectives and the court itself. Detective Konstantinos Giannakoulias told the court that he had received text messages from a witness in the case concerned about his safety. On the stand, that witness said that Giannakoulias had initiated the texting with a message shortly after the witness failed to identify Pharr in a photo line-up. The witness said he felt pressured in the exchange.
Another witness said that before going into the grand jury, a detective talked to him about “jail time,” Downs said, adding that one witness only testified to the grand jury when a judge ordered him to do so.
Why would the government go to such lengths to close a case? Downs asked the jury.
“This case is a huge embarrassment to the government,” he said, answering his own question.
According to the defense, the night Jones was killed, eight police officers were sitting at the top of a hill near Dix Street in Clay Terrace, looking down on the parking lot where Jones would be shot. Fifty to sixty people people were partying down there, in what officers called “the hole,” Downs said, and the smell of marijuana wafted up to them.
“The detectives did nothing,” Downs said. “Either you have eight police officers too scared to go down into the hole, or they didn’t care,” Downs said. “But it gets worse. You heard that 911 call.”
“She’s not only incompetent, she’s rude,” Downs said of the dispatcher.
Taylor, the prosecutor, did not dispute that the 911 call was unfortunate.
“It was inexcusable,” she said. “It is a sad reflection of what one would hope for when they call for help. But the dispatcher is not the one on trial.”
As to the witnesses who testified, Taylor said they were “no friend of the government.”
“‘Hot’ means ‘snitch.’ ‘Hot’ means that you talk to police. ‘Hot’ means that you come to court. ‘Hot’ means that you testify. Being a snitch is dangerous.”
Those who testified likely knew that already, all too well, Taylor said. One, she said, “was freaked out about becoming what Angelo Jones was being called.”
The trial has been marked by fits and starts. The jury was seated Feb. 16, a Thursday, and heard opening arguments that day. During the next five days of testimony, Judge Thomas Motley held about a dozen bench conferences, excusing the jury for ten minutes to several hours for each. On Monday, as Taylor was nearing the end of her closing arguments, a fire alarm forced the evacuation of the courthouse and delayed the trial by about an hour.
Prosecutors are scheduled to make a rebuttal closing statement around 10 a.m., and then the case will go to the jury: a panel nine women and five men (including alternates).